Kennedy Space Center


Kennedy Space Center is located on Merritt Island, Brevard County, Florida, United States and is a NASA space vehicle launch facility. It is also a major tourist destination for visitors to Florida.

Kennedy Space Center PictureKennedy Space Center is located on the east coast of Florida approximately midway between Jacksonville and Miami and is located about 35 miles east of Orlando International Airport in Brevard County, Florida. It is 55 km (34 miles) long and around 10 km (6 miles) wide, covering 567 km² (219 square miles).

Nearby tourist attractions include: Walt Disney World, Universal Studios Florida and Sea World Orlando.

Since its establishment in July 1962, the spaceport has served as the departure gate for every American manned mission and for advanced scientific spacecraft. The center was renamed the John F. Kennedy Space Center in late 1963 to honor the president who put America on the path to the moon.

KSC shares its property with the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and in 1975, nearly half of the Space Center was designated by Congress as part of the Canaveral National Seashore.

Much of the Kennedy Space Center is a restricted area and only 9 percent of the land is developed. The site serves also as an important wildlife sanctuary: Mosquito Lagoon, Indian River, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Canaveral National Seashore are also features of this area.

Space Flight highlights include: human missions from the early days of Project Mercury, Gemini, Apollo (the first human journey to the Moon), Skylab Space Station, Space Shuttle. KSC is also the starting point for hundreds of scientific, commercial and applications spacecraft including the Hubble Space Telescope, Cassini. Voyager Spacecraft, Viking, Pioneer spacecraft to the Mars Exploration Rovers. It currently used as the base for Space Shuttle launch and landing operations.

KSC Launch Vehicle Area

Operations are currently controlled from Launch Complex 39, the location of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). 3 miles (5 km) to the east of the assembly building are the two launch pads. 5 miles (8 km) south is the Kennedy Space Center Industrial Area where many of the Center’s support facilities and the administrative Headquarters Building are located.

Kennedy Space Center’s only launch operations are at Launch Complex 39. All other launch operations take place at the adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS), which is operated by the Air Force. The center employs about 15,000 civil servants and contractors (as of December 2007).

Space Shuttle

The Kennedy Space Center provides launch sites for the space shuttle and numerous launch vehicles delivering important payloads into orbit. Space shuttle operations at Kennedy focus on maintaining each orbiter’s health and meticulously preparing the vehicle, its external tank and solid rocket boosters for upcoming missions.

Visitor Complex

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, operated by Delaware North Companies at no taxpayer expense, is home to a number of museums, two IMAX theatres and various bus tours allowing visitors a closer look at various restricted areas that would otherwise not be possible.

Base admission for people over age 12 is $38 (Dec 2007). Included in the base admission is tour-bus transportation into the restricted area to an observation gantry on the grounds of Launch Complex 39 and to the Apollo-Saturn V Center. The observation gantry provides unobstructed views of both launch pads and all of Kennedy Space Center property.

The Apollo-Saturn V Center is a large museum built around its centerpiece exhibit, a restored Saturn V launch vehicle, and features other space related exhibits, including an Apollo capsule. Two theaters allow the visitor to relive parts of the Apollo program. One simulates the environment inside an Apollo-era firing room during an Apollo launch, and another simulates the Apollo 11 landing. The tour also includes a visit to a building where modules for the International Space Station are tested.

The Rocket Garden (open to visitors) at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is worth seeing.

The Visitor Complex also includes two facilities run by the Astronauts Memorial Foundation. The most visible of these is the Space Mirror Memorial, also known as the Astronaut Memorial, a huge black granite mirror through-engraved with the names of all astronauts who died in the line of duty. These names are constantly illuminated from behind, with natural light when possible, and artificial light when necessary. The glowing names seem to float in a reflection of the sky. Supplemental displays nearby give the details of the lives and deaths of the astronauts memorialized. Elsewhere on the Visitor Complex grounds is the Foundation’s Center for Space Education, which includes a resource center for teachers, among other facilities.


Visitors to see KSC well, you need to spend at least one day exploring the Visitor Complex, enjoying its Rocket Garden, IMAX movies, space history exhibits, a full-sized walk-through Space Shuttle display, bus tours, restaurants, gift shops, the Apollo / Saturn V facility and the Astronaut Hall of Fame.

Other space-related attractions available nearby include the Astronaut Memorial Planetarium and Observatory at Brevard Community College in Cocoa and the U.S. Space Walk of Fame in Titusville.

Launch Viewing

If you will be in Florida during a Shuttle launch, you have two options for launch viewing. You may purchase Launch Transportation Tickets from the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. There are also many prime viewing areas outside of the space center. Each year, millions of visitors from across the world make the trek to this hub of technology and discovery, where many of mankind’s greatest accomplishments take place.



On July 29, 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed Public Law 85-568 that established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). T. Keith Glennan was sworn in as the first administrator of NASA on 19 August and on 1 October, the new agency began operation with the mission to perform civilian research related to space flight and aeronautics.

The announcement of the lunar program led to an expansion of operations from the Cape to the adjacent Merritt Island. NASA began acquisition in 1962, taking title to 131 miles² by outright purchase and negotiating with the state of Florida for an additional 87 miles². In July 1962, the site was named the Launch Operations Center. It was renamed the John F. Kennedy Space Center in November 1963, after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Space Shuttle Launch Picture

Note: The surrounding Cape Canaveral was also renamed Cape Kennedy, but this change was unpopular with local residents and the cape reverted to the original name in 1973.

The Apollo lunar project had three stages: Mercury, Gemini and Apollo.


The project started in October 1957 using the Atlas ICBM as the base to carry the Mercury payload, but early testing used the Redstone rocket for a series of suborbital flights including the 15 minute flights of Alan Shepard on May 5, 1961 and Virgil Grissom on July 21, 1961. The first human carried by an Atlas was John Glenn on February 20, 1962. While Mercury was launched by NASA, launches occurred from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station as Kennedy Space Center was not yet developed.

The objective of the Mercury program was:

  1. Place a manned spacecraft in orbital flight around the earth.
  2. Investigate man’s performance capabilities and his ability to function in the environment of space.
  3. Recover the man and the spacecraft safely from a voyage to the moon.


From the knowledge gained through Mercury the more complex two-man capsules of Gemini were prepared as was a new launcher based on the Titan II ICBM. The first manned flight took place on 23 March, 1965 with John Young and Virgil Grissom. Gemini 4 featured the first American spacewalk (extravehicular activity) by Edward H. White. There were twelve Gemini launches from KSC.


The Apollo program used the three stage Saturn V (111 m high and 10 m in diameter), built by Boeing (first stage), North American Aviation (engines and second stage) and Douglas Aircraft (third stage). North American Aviation also made the command and service modules while Grumman Aircraft Engineering constructed the lunar lander. IBM, MIT and GE provided instrumentation.

At Kennedy Space Center an $800 million center was built to accommodate this new rocket at Launch Complex 39. It included a hangar to hold four Saturn V rockets, the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB, 130 million ft³; a transportation system from the hangar to the launch pad, capable of carrying 5440 tonnes; a 446-foot (136 m) movable service structure and a control center. Construction began in November 1962, the launch pads were completed by October 1965, the VAB was completed in June 1965, and the infrastructure by late 1966. From 1967 through 1973, there were 13 Saturn V launches from Complex 39.

Before the Saturn V launches there were a series of smaller Saturn I and IB launches to test the men and equipment from Complex 34 on the Cape Canaveral site. The death of astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger B. Chaffee by fire on Apollo-Saturn 204 (later designated Apollo 1) on 27 January, 1967 occurred at Complex 34.

The first Saturn V test launch, Apollo 4 (Apollo-Saturn 501) began its 104 hour countdown on 30 October, 1967 and after delays was launched on November 9. Apollo 7 was the first manned test on October 11, 1968 (on a Saturn IB). Apollo 8, the first manned Saturn V launch, made 10 lunar orbits on December 24-25, 1968. Apollo 9 and Apollo 10 tested the lunar lander. Apollo 11 was launched on July 16, 1969 and the Moon was walked on at 10:56 pm EDT, 20 July. The Apollo program continued at KSC, through Apollo 14 (1971), the 24th American manned space flight (40th in the world), until Apollo 17 of December 1972.

The Air Force chose to expand the capabilities of the Titan launch vehicles for its heavy lift capabilities. It constructed Launch Complexes 40 and 41 to launch Titan III and Titan IV rockets at CCAFS, just south of Kennedy Space Center. A Titan III has about the same payload capacity as a Saturn IB at a considerable cost savings. Launch Complex 40 and 41 has been used to launch defense reconnaissance, communications and weather satellites and NASA planetary missions. The Air Force also planned to launch two Air Force manned space projects from LC 40 and 41. They were the Dyna-Soar, a manned orbital rocket plane (cancelled in 1963) and the Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL), a manned reconnaissance space station (cancelled in 1969).

Other rocket launches continued at KSC. Before Apollo, an Atlas-Centaur launched from Launch Complex 36 had put the first American Surveyor lander softly on the Moon on 30 May, 1966. A further five out of seven Surveyor craft were also successfully transferred to the Moon. From 1974-1977 the powerful Titan-Centaur became the new heavy lift vehicle for NASA, launching the Viking and Voyager series of spacecraft from Launch Complex 41, an Air Force site lent to NASA. Complex 41 later became the launch site for the most powerful unmanned U.S. rocket, the Titan IV, developed for the Air Force.

The Saturn V was also used to put the Skylab space station in orbit in 1973. Launchpad 39B was slightly modified for Saturn IB use and launched three manned missions to Skylab in 1973, as well as the Apollo component of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in 1975.

In 2002, NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center, home to Space Shuttle launches celebrated its 40 year anniversary and 40 years of technology utilization.

Space Shuttle

Kennedy Space Center was used as the launch site for the Space Shuttle, reusing the Complex 39 Apollo infrastructure. The first launch was of Columbia on 12 April, 1981. KSC was used as a landing site for the Shuttle orbiter, the 2.9 miles (4.6 km) Shuttle Landing Facility. However, the first end-of-mission Shuttle landing at KSC did not take place until 11 February, 1984, when Challenger completed STS-41-B; the primary landing site had until that time been Edwards Air Force Base in California. Twenty-five flights had been completed by September 1988, with a large hiatus from January 28, 1986, to September 29, 1988, following the Challenger Disaster (which was the first shuttle launch from Pad 39B).

Space Shuttle was retired from service in July 2011 after 135 launches.

Current Use

When you explore Kennedy, you will get a good look at how the Space Shuttle was used and processed. A trip to the Air Force Museum at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station will take you back to NASA’s beginnings and past the launch structures that were used to launch the Mariner, Explorer, Viking and Voyager spacecraft to the planets. And as you watch future launches and landings, you can remember back to the day you explored Kennedy Space Center.

Today, the Center stands ready to meet the challenges of the 21st century as a major partner in the construction and operation of spaceports on Earth, in orbit and beyond.

Commercial Leasing

Kennedy Space Center leases some of its properties:

  • Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF)-3 to Boeing (for CST-100 Starliner)
  • LC-39A to SpaceX:  Space-X signed a 20-year lease for Launch Pad 39A on 14 April 2014.

Did you know?

* The Kennedy Space Center area receives more lightning strikes than any other place in the U.S.A. causing NASA to spend millions of dollars to avoid strikes during launch.

* The State of Florida is located in the south-eastern region of the United States. Most of the state is a large peninsula with the Gulf of Mexico on its west and the Atlantic Ocean on its east. Much of the state has a humid subtropical climate, except for southern Florida, where the climate is tropical. Florida was named by Juan Ponce de León, who landed on the peninsula on 2 April 1513, during Pascua Florida (Spanish for “Flowery Easter,” referring to the Easter season). Florida is the 4th most populated state in the country, behind California (1st), Texas (2nd) and New York (3rd).

  • Space-X is a privately-owned launch service company.

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