Happy birthday to the Kennedy Space Center, which hits its auspicious golden jubilee today. The famous NASA installation on Merritt Island, Florida, has been the launch site for every US human space flight since its founding on 1 July 1962 – including the 1969 Apollo Moon landing. Let’s take a look at what the KSC has achieved in its half-century of helping mankind defy gravity:
In line with US President John F Kennedy’s goal of a lunar landing before the decade was out, NASA expands its operations to around 520 square kilometres (200 square miles) of land on Merritt Island. Named the Launch Operations Center, it’s given an equal footing as other NASA installations and, following the assassination of the president, is renamed the Kennedy Space Center in 1963. Projects Mercury and Gemini begin the process towards the famous Apollo project.
The most famous space mission of them all, Apollo 11 lands the first man on the Moon on 20 July 1969.
While the Apollo missions continued throughout the Seventies (including the infamous Apollo 13 mission dramatised by the Tom Hanks film of the same name), NASA was busy putting Skylab into orbit. This initially unmanned space station was designed to conduct a variety of experiements possible only in space. Hundreds of ‘Blue Marble’ photos were taken of the Earth and the existence of coronal holes in the Sun – darker and cooler patches – were also confirmed using X-ray telescopes.
The Space Shuttle programme begins its manned launch vehicle project with the Kennedy Space Center as its headquarters. Over the next three decades until 2011, it would launch 135 missions most of which went smoothly. Two were notably tragic however: in 1986 the Challenger disintegrated mid-flight, 73 seconds after takeoff, while the Space Shuttle Columbia was destroyed just 16 minutes before its expected landing in 2003. Both seven-man crews were lost with their craft.
Though the Space Shuttle programme has been wound down, work continues at the Kennedy Space Center as NASA launches unmanned rockets into space and designs for new shuttles to further human space exploration are pursued.