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Cape Canaveral is the name of a city in Florida located on the Atlantic Coast. It’s the location of the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, which is adjacent to John F. Kennedy Space Center. The entire area is collectively known as the “Space Coast.”

The word “Canaveral” is Spanish, meaning “reed bed” or “sugarcane plantation.”    The place name of Cape Canaveral is one of the oldest surviving European place names in the U.S. The name appeared on maps as early as the year 1564. Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León visited Cape Canaveral in 1513. Until after World War II the cape was a stretch of barren, sandy scrubland.

Cape Canaveral was chosen as a test site for missiles when President Harry Truman signed legislation authorizing the construction of a missile proving ground in 1949. The location was picked for a number of reasons. First, it was adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean where misfires could land in the water without killing people, and where splashdowns of returning rockets could be recovered from the sea. Second, it was chosen to take advantage of the Earth’s rotation because the linear velocity of the Earth’s surface is greatest towards the equator and being close to the equator reduces the energy required to launch rockets by 0.3%. Finally, the climate made it possible to launch rockets year-round. The average temperatures at Cape Canaveral vary between 91.1 F during the day and 75.1 F at night. The average annual rainfall of Cape Canaveral is 53 inches (135 cm), however.

The first rocket launched from Cape Canaveral was a V-2 rocket that went up on July 24, 1950. NASA was established in 1958. By 1959, the first Titan intercontinental ballistic missile went up. That was followed by the Mercury and Gemini space programs, and then the Apollo flights.

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After President Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, his widow, Jacqueline Kennedy, suggested to President Lyndon Johnson that renaming the Cape Canaveral facility would be an appropriate memorial. It was Kennedy who had set the goal of landing on the Moon. Johnson recommended the renaming of the entire cape, announced in a televised address six days after the assassination, on Thanksgiving evening. Kennedy’s last visit to the space facility was on November 16, 1963, six days before his death. Accordingly, Cape Canaveral Space Force Station was officially renamed Cape Kennedy Air Force Station. At the same time, the city of Cape Canaveral changed its name to Cape Kennedy.

Although the name change was approved, it was not popular in Florida from the outset. The area had been known as Cape Canaveral for centuries, and the locals were unhappy about the name change. In 1973, the Florida State Legislature passed a law restoring the former 400-year-old name. John Kennedy’s brother, Senator Ted Kennedy, had stated that it was a matter to be decided by the citizens of Florida, and the Kennedy family issued a letter stating they “understood the decision.” In 1974, Florida governor Reubin Askew signed legislation restoring the name of Cape Canaveral. Meanwhile, the Air Force issued a general order renaming the facilities on an adjacent island the Kennedy Space Center.

Therefore, Kennedy Space Center is a NASA complex on Merritt Island, which is just northwest of the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. Both Cape Canaveral and Kennedy Space Center function as spaceports, launching spacecraft and supporting spaceflight, but they are distinctively different entities. Cape Canaveral also refers to the name of the nearby town, as well as the beach.