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Why Do Rockets Launch From Florida?

by
Aug 9th, 2021

Have you ever watched a rocket launch from Cape Canaveral? Well, it’s the experience of a lifetime and one that’s easily attainable! 

But what made NASA choose Cape Canaveral as the launch site for all their space-bound enterprises? Read on to find out more about the history of rocketry in the United States and how Florida became the launchpad to space!

Why do rockets launch from Florida?

Rocket launches back then 

Before we look at the early history of rocketry, let’s just step back to appreciate the sheer speed at which aeronautical technology was advancing in the early 20th century. 

Air travel had been a topic of inventors’ discussions for thousands of years, but many early inventions and prototypes utilized lighter-than-air techniques to give buoyancy to their crafts. Examples of this include the hot-air balloon and the Zeppelin airship. 

The development of these aircraft slowed in the early 1800s as inventors focused on heavier-than-air machines that were powered by motors, rather than air. Most of the century was filled with a myriad of flying machine prototypes that were tested across the world by inventors of all experiences. Gliders outfitted with small motors dominated the field as people got closer and closer to successfully powering a machine through the air.

The first ever successful airplane flight was in 1903 when Wilbur and Orville Wright flew the Wright Flyer off the sandy dunes of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Not only was this the first successful manned flight, but it was also the first successful motor-operated airplane ever to be built. This is considered to be the beginning of the Pioneer Era of aviation.

Flash forward just twelve years into 1915, and airplanes are not only successfully flying, but they go higher, become faster and last longer every day. The air became a battle field a year into World War I after machine guns were attached and reconnaissance missions were planned. 

The 1950s saw the development of both surface-to-air missiles and intercontinental ballistic missiles. This new form of flight introduced the possibility of launching craft into space which, in 1957, was accomplished by the Soviet Union’s Sputnik 1. After that, the space race was on. 

On July 20, 1969, man first stepped foot on the Moon.

Just think about it. Just 66 years after the first successful airplane flight, humans landed on the moon. There were people who were kids during the first flight and retirees when the Moon landing happened. The amount of technology that had to be developed in just 66 years for that to happen is astounding, to say the least. 

Why is this important? Well, as aviation technology and, therefore, rocketry advanced, old practices were left behind and new techniques were fine-tuned to create the world of space exploration we have today. That’s how it’s been for the past 60 years of rocketry, and it’ll likely keep changing in the future. 

The first rocket launch site in the United States was at the White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) in New Mexico, where the surrounding desert provided plenty of space to launch early rockets. The first rockets tested and launched from the WSMR were 67 German V-2 rockets that were seized following the end of World War II, taking place in the years between 1946 and 1951. After this, American rockets began testing at the facility, too. 

As we’ve already seen in aviation technology, science advanced rapidly as new rockets and propulsion systems were designed and tested, and soon the White Sands Missile Range couldn’t keep up with the space-bound rockets. Rockets flew higher and further, and the telemetry stations and radar systems could only track them if the rockets flew straight into the air with zero deviations. There was concern that a misplaced missile or rocket could, in essence, get lost and crash somewhere that may be populated. 

These concerns prompted the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (later succeeded by NASA) to pick a new location for rocket testing and launching in the 1950s, which is where Florida comes in! 

Why Florida?

In 1960, the first rocket was launched from Cape Canaveral on July 24, 1960, starting the glowing history of space exploration on Florida’s Space Coast that continues to this day.

The ocean 

The nearby Atlantic Ocean meant that there was less risk of falling rockets damaging populated areas, and it would be easier to retrieve any debris from the ocean than it would in, say, the Lincoln National Forest.

Earth’s rotation

The Earth’s rotation played a large part in choosing Florida as the launch site, as Cape Canaveral is located at about 28 degrees latitude above the equator.

Here’s why that seemingly-obscure detail matters.

The Earth rotates eastward constantly, meaning that every single point on the planet is moving east — everywhere besides the poles. The closer you are to the North Pole, the slower you spin around the axis, while places closer to the equator move faster. 

It helps to think of a record playing on a record player. A drop of paint on the inner edge of the record rotates around the stick in a small, lazy circle, while a drop of paint on the outer edge moves in a larger, faster circle. The record itself is rotating at the same rate, but individual points move differently depending on where they are.

A point on the equator (the outer edge of the metaphorical record) moves at about 1,040 miles per hour, and Cape Canaveral’s proximity to that point puts it at about 914 miles per hour. A rocket launched from Cape Canaveral has all the velocity from that rotation speed to help boost the craft into the atmosphere, saving fuel on launching and instead using it to increase speed and punch through the atmosphere. 

So, there you have it! The nearby Atlantic Ocean and the proximity to the equator are the two main reasons Cape Canaveral was chosen as the site for so many rocket launches. If you live in our luxury South Florida apartments, then check out this launch schedule and head up to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex to see it all for yourself! The rockets are truly out of this world!

Enjoy!

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Featured photo courtesy Pixabay/WikiImages

Author of Article

Colleen Ford is a South African who now lives in Spokane, Washington. She loves to travel, camp (in warm weather) and bake.

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