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Cape Canaveral

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Cape Canaveral from space, August 1991

Cape Canaveral from the Spanish Cabo Cañaveral, is a headland in Brevard County, Florida, United States, near the centre of that state's Atlantic coast 45 minutes East of Orlando by car. It sits due east of Merritt Island, separated from it by the Banana River. It is part of a region known as the Space Coast, and is the site of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Since many United States spacecraft are launched from both the station and the Kennedy Space Centre on nearby Merritt Island, the term "Cape Canaveral" or "Canaveral" has become a metonym that refers to both as the launch site of spacecraft.

Other features of the cape include Cape Canaveral lighthouse and Port Canaveral. The city of Cape Canaveral is a few miles south of the cape. Mosquito Lagoon, The Indian River, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Canaveral National Seashore are also features of this area.


As early as the 16th century Cape Canaveral has been noted on nautical maps. A point of land jutting out into the Atlantic ocean with swift currents and coral shoals this area of Cape Canaveral became a landing spot for many shipwrecked sailors. It was named by Juan Ponce de Leon's historian as Cape of Currents. Author Henrietta Carr stated in her book that English privateer Master John Hawkins and his journalist John Sparke gave an account of their landing at Cape Canaveral in the 1500's. Robert Ranson in his book "East Coast Memoirs" writes about a Presbyterian missionary who was wrecked and lived among the Indians. Other histories tell of French survivors from Jean Ribault's Fort Caroline whose ship the "Trinite" wrecked on the shores of Cape Canaveral and from whose timbers a fort was built.

Due to the hazardous of the Cape for shipping the first Cape Canaveral Lighthouse was built and completed in 1843.

The 1890 graduating class of Harvard University started a gun club called the "Canaveral Club" at the Cape. This was founded by C.B. Horton of Boston and George H. Reed. A number of distinguished visitors including presidents Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison were reported to have stayed here. In the 1920s the grand building fell in disrepair and later burned to the ground.

In the 1900s several communities sprang up in Cape Canaveral. The area was predominately a farming and fishing community. One community was called Artesia and records indicate the following residents and their occupations:

  • Burns, M.B. (fruit grower),
  • Burns, R.G. (fisherman),
  • Chandler, Wyatt. (fruit grower),
  • Franklin, A. (painter),
  • Holmes, G.W. (apiarist),
  • Honeywell, CP. (lighthouse keeper),
  • Jeffords, S.L. (assistant lighthouse keeper),
  • Peterson, W.C. (apiarist),
  • Praetorious E. (assistant lighthouse keeper),
  • Quarterman, O.A. (Fishery),
  • Thompson, T. (engineer),
  • Wilson, F.A. (fisherman),
  • Wilson, H. (fruit grower).

In the 1930s a community of wealthy journalists started a community called "Journalista" which is now called "Avon by the Sea". The Brossier brothers built houses in this area and started a publication entitled the Evening Star Reporter that was the forerunner of the Orlando Sentinel.

The first rocket launch from the Cape was Bumper 8 from Launch Pad 3 on 24 July, 1950. On February 6, 1959 the first successful test firing of a Titan intercontinental ballistic missile was accomplished here. All manned U.S. government (NASA) spaceflights have launched from Kennedy Space Centre on nearby Merritt Island.

Cape Canaveral was chosen for rocket launches to take advantage of the earth's rotation. The linear velocity of the Earth's surface is greatest towards the equator; the relatively southerly location of the Cape allows rockets to take advantage of this by launching eastward, in the same direction as the earth's rotation. It is also highly desirable to have the downrange area sparsely populated, in case of accidents; an ocean is ideal for this. Although the United States has sites closer to the equator with expanses of ocean to the east of them (e.g. Hawaii, Puerto Rico), the east coast of Florida has substantial logistical advantages over these island locations. The tip of the cape is at LC-46 in Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Name changes

From 1963 to 1973 it was called Cape Kennedy. President John F. Kennedy was an enthusiastic backer of the space program, and after his assassination in 1963, his widow Jacqueline Kennedy suggested to President Lyndon Johnson that renaming the Cape Canaveral facility would be an appropriate memorial. However, Johnson recommended the renaming not just of the facility, but of the entire cape. Accordingly, Cape Canaveral was renamed Cape Kennedy.

Although the name change was approved by the United States Board on Geographic Names of the Interior Department in 1964, it was not popular in Florida, especially in the city of Cape Canaveral, Florida. In 1973 the state passed a law restoring the former 400-year-old name, and the Board went along. The Kennedy family issued a letter stating they "understood the decision"; Jacqueline Kennedy also stated if she had known that the Canaveral name had existed for 400 years, she never would have supported changing the name of the Cape. The Space Centre itself retains the "Kennedy" name.

Name origin

The name "Canaveral" (Cañaveral in Spanish) was given to the area by Spanish explorers. It literally means " canebrake". The name can be interpreted as "Cape of Canes".

The city

The City of Cape Canaveral is relatively small, with a population of around 10,000. Highway A1A runs through the City, and serves as the main link to other cities. Many houses in the City were built during the Apollo days in the 1960s and 1970s. However, in recent years, many houses are either being modernized, or demolished and replaced with new houses or condos. The City has a high divorce rate and a history of drug problems, but this detraction is largely overcome by proximity to the beach, Kennedy Space Centre, and Orlando.

In pop culture

  • In The Simpsons episode " Deep Space Homer", a fictitious sign shows its pre-Canaveral name as Cape Arbuckle. In another episode, Ned Flanders greets Homer, with whom he is competing via craft rocket, "Greetings from Neddidy Space Centre on Cape Flandaveral."
  • Made in 1964, but set in 2064, cult British TV series Thunderbirds refers to Cape Kennedy.
  • The "Cape Kennedy" name shows up in some 1960s TV shows, at least in episodes of "Flipper" and " I Dream of Jeannie", both of which were set on the Space Coast.
  • The name is also mentioned in the 1967 film " The Reluctant Astronaut".
  • Cape Kennedy is referenced on a newspaper headline in the 1969 Disney film "The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes" starring Kurt Russell
  • Cape Canaveral is referred to in the Descendents song "Blast Off", from the album Cool to Be You.
  • Cape Canaveral is referred to in the Jack's Mannequin song "Cellular Phone".
  • One of the stops in the FOX television show Drive, references Cape Kennedy as a clue, with 1973 and the name change cited as the Death of Kennedy, leading the racers to Cape Canaveral.
  • Conor Oberst from Bright Eyes recently performed a song called Cape Canaveral live with the Mystic Valley Band.


The telephone area code for Cape Canaveral is, appropriately, 321.

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