A Detailed Look Into the History of the Kennedy Space Center

Kennedy Space Center History

The Kennedy Space Center, located on Cape Canaveral, Florida, is a historic and iconic site for the US space exploration program. It is home to the launch pads that have sent astronauts into orbit since 1961 and has been integral to America’s journey in space. 

From the first Americans in space to the Apollo Program of the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Kennedy Space Center has been at the center of some of the world’s most important accomplishments in space. Stay on this page to find out more about the history of the Kennedy Space Center.

Kennedy Space Center Timeline

  • 29 July 1958 - President Dwight signed the bill that establishes the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
  • 1 October 1958 - NASA began operations to perform civilian research related to space flight and aeronautics.
  • 25 May 1961 - President John F. Kennedy announced his ambitious goal of sending an American to the moon before the end of the decade.
  • 1 September 1961 - NASA asked for funding to acquire 80,000 acres of land purchased on Merritt Island to support the Apollo Lunar Landing program on land, which would ultimately become the Kennedy Space Center.
  • July 1963 - The construction of the Vehicle Assembly Building begins.  
  • 29 November 1963 - President Lyndon Johnson designated the Launch Operation Center and Station No. 1 as the John F. Kennedy Space Center.
  • 26 May 1965 - NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Headquarters building is used for all spaceport activities.
  • 27 January 1967 - In practice for the first piloted Apollo test flight, Ed White, Gus Grissom, and Roger Chafee were killed when a fire swept through the Apollo spacecraft high atop a Saturn 1 B rocket.
  • 11 October 1968 - NASA astronauts blast off from Cape Kennedy on Apollo 7 in the first manned Apollo test flight.
  • 21 December 1968 - Jim Lovell, Frank Borman, and William Anders went off on the Apollo 8 mission in the first manned launch from Kennedy Space Center. This was the first human expedition beyond Earth’s orbit.
  • 16 July 1969 - Apollo 11 was launched from Cape Kennedy, along with Commander Neil Armstrong, Command Module pilot Michael Collins and Lunar Module pilot Edwin Aldrin.

History of the Kennedy Space Center

Kennedy Space Center History - 1960's

1960s

President John F. Kennedy decided to send an American astronaut to the moon and NASA wanted to expand this opportunity at Cape Canaveral and build a spaceport for manned lunar launches. During this era, NASA activated its Launch Operations Center, today known as Kennedy Space Center, granting the lunar launch site equal status with other agency field centers.

Soon, the construction of the Vehicle Assembly Building came into being. On 9 Nov 1967, an unmanned Saturn B blasts off on the first test flight of the rocket that launched moon-bound American astronauts. It was the first exclusive launch from John F. Kennedy Space Center.

American astronauts Jim Lovell, William Anders, and Frank Borman blast off from launch pad 39A on the Apollo 8 mission. It was the first manned launch of a Saturn V rocket, the first manned launch from the famous Kennedy Space Center.

Kennedy Space Center History - 1970's

1970s

Skylab, America’s first space station was launched atop a Saturn V rocket. NASA wished to keep Skylab in orbit till a space shuttle could travel to it. But an enormous solar activity dragged the station towards the upper reaches of the atmosphere.

Skylab entered the Indian Ocean on July 11, 1979, showering debris over a path that stretched massively to a sparsely populated region of western Australia. A year after the historic Apollo 11 moon-landing mission in 1970, the workforce was cut down to 15,000.

The shuttle program had created its boom and bust.

Kennedy Space Center History - 1980's

1980s

This was the era when NASA’s boldest launch came into being. On the morning of April 12, 1981, astronauts Bob Crippen and John Young had strapped into Columbia for NASA’s first shuttle flight. The spacecraft would be the first of its kind to blast off like a rocket and land like an airplane.

NASA’s first 24 shuttle missions were quite a thing. Astronauts donned Buck Rogers-style jetpacks and flew away from the shuttle, with zero safety. They retrieved the satellites, fixed solar explorers, and deployed top-secret military spacecraft and communication satellites.

Kennedy Space Center History - 1990's

1990s

During this era, NASA launched major space science and planetary exploration missions when the shuttle fleet returned to flight. A majority of the military shuttle missions were classified as top secret.

Shuttle Atlantis had blasted off and headed towards the first shuttle docking with the Russian space station Mir. Around 10 shuttle missions were launched to Mir during the joint U.S. – Russian Assembly of the International Space Station.

NASA launch commentator Lisa Malone and the Kennedy Space Center Shuttle launch team had sent John Herschel Glenn Jr. into space 36 years after the Project Mercury astronaut had become the first American to orbit Earth.

Kennedy Space Center History - 2000's

2000s

Discovery had become the nation’s shuttle fleet leader around this time and had been the orbiter that returned the nation to space post the 1986 Challenger accident. During this time, NASA was set on completing the task of finishing the International Space Station.

Records show that Atlantis and NASA’s final four shuttle astronauts had landed on Runway 15 at the Kennedy Space Center. After 30 long years, the shuttle had earned its place in history, and NASA’s 135th and final shuttle mission had come to its end.

Today, Shawn Quinn foresees great things for NASA at the Kennedy Space Center.

Kennedy Space Center Today

Kennedy Space Center History. - Kennedy Space Center Today

Book Your Kennedy Space Center Tickets & Tours

Admission Tickets to Kennedy Space Centre

Instant Confirmation
Mobile Ticket
Flexible Duration
Guided Tour
More details +

Kennedy Space Center Admission Tickets + Explore Tour with Round Trip Transfers

Instant Confirmation
Mobile Ticket
Flexible Duration
Guided Tour
Transfers Included
More details +

Kennedy Space Center Small Group VIP Experience

Free Cancellation
Instant Confirmation
Mobile Ticket
11 hr.
Guided Tour
More details +

Transfers to the Kennedy Space Center

Free Cancellation
Instant Confirmation
Mobile Ticket
10 hr.
Transfers Included
More details +

Frequently Asked Questions About the History of Kennedy Space Center

Q. How old is the Kennedy Space Center?

A. The Kennedy Space Center has been known for being the main launch center of human spaceflight since 1968.

Q. When did the Kennedy Space Center open?

A. The NASA Kennedy Space Center opened on 1 July, 1962.

Q. What is the Kennedy Space Center famous for?

A. The Kennedy Space Center in Florida plays a significant role in NASA’s mission. It is the base for space shuttle launches and landing operations. Over the years, there have been various manned missions to space that have departed from NASA Kennedy Space Center.

Q. Who founded the Kennedy Space Center?

A. President Dwight Eisenhower founded NASA in 1958 and its Launch Operations Center in East Florida in 1962. This facility was renamed in honor of President Kennedy.

Q. Why was the Kennedy Space Center named after John F. Kennedy?

A. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy famously declared that the United States would send an astronaut to the moon, and bring that person back safely onto the Earth before the end of the decade. Hence, the facility was renamed in honor of President Kennedy.

Q. When was the first launch at the Kennedy Space Center?

A. On 9 November 1967, the first-ever launch took place at the Kennedy Space Center at Launch Complex 39 with the first flight test of the 363-foot-tall Saturn V.

Q. What launches took place at the Kennedy Space Center?

A. Some of the most historical launches at the Kennedy Space Center include the Skylab, Saturn V, and Shuttle Discovery. It also launched plenty of GPS missions for the United States Air Force.

Q. What are some interesting facts about the history of the Kennedy Space Center?

A. Apollo 11 was launched to the Moon from the Kennedy Space Center. Since 1968, all manned NASA Space Flights have been launched from Kennedy Space Center. The place is home to a lot of real historic and current space exploration vehicles, including the Saturn V Moon rocket, the Apollo 14 Kitty Hawk capsule in Apollo Treasures Gallery, the Space Shuttle Atlantis, the Mercury Sigma 7 capsule, and the Gemini 9 capsule. Plan a visit to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex to get a look at these historic space memorabilia.

Q. How much did it cost to build the Kennedy Space Center?

A. The Kennedy Space Center, with an 84,000-acre area, cost $900 million to construct, and ever since its completion, it has served as America’s gateway to space.

Q. Why was the Kennedy Space Center built on Cape Canaveral?

A. Cape Canaveral was chosen to build the Kennedy Space Center due to its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. Concerning the fuel efficiency and expense perspective, the amount of energy needed to launch an object goes a long way.

Q. When did the Kennedy Space Center open to the public?

A. The Kennedy Space Center grew stronger each day and was unveiled on 1 August, 1967 to the public.

Q. Can I go inside the Kennedy Space Center?

A. Yes, you can tour the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Book your tickets here.

Q. What is the Kennedy Space Center known for?

A. The Kennedy Space is pivotal in NASA’s mission. It is known for being the base for space shuttle launches and landing operations. Over the years, space has evolved to become the starting point for numerous scientific and application spacecraft.

Q. Do I need tickets to visit the Kennedy Space Center?

A. Yes, all visitors require a ticket to enter the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Book your tickets here.

Q. Is it worth visiting the Kennedy Space Center?

A. Yes, the Kennedy Space Center is an incredible place that you might visit in your entire lifetime and is definitely worth the bucket list. The Kennedy Space Center carries out NASA’s major space activities, including launches and space-related events.

Q. What is inside the Kennedy Space Center?

A. The Kennedy Space Center has various Mission Zones where attractions and tours are grouped by chronological era. From space exploration to current and ongoing missions, you can get an insight into the story of humans in space.

More Reads

kennedy space center guided tours

Kennedy Space Center Tours

Plan Your Visit to Kennedy Space Center

Plan Your Visit to Kennedy Space Center

about nasa kennedy space center

About Kennedy Space Center