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History of NASA’s Spaceport

From Project Mercury to Artemis, Kennedy Space Center has played a vital role as NASA’s spaceport for the past six decades.

Kennedy Center Directors, 1961–present

Kurt Debus, first director of Kennedy Space Center

July 1960–Oct. 1974

Oct. 1974–Jan. 1975 (Acting)

Former Center Director Lee R. Scherer

Jan. 1975– Sept. 1979

Richard G. Smith

Sept. 1979–July 1986

July 1986–Oct. 1986 (Acting)

Jan. 1992–Jan. 1995

Jan. 1995–Mar. 1997

Mar. 1997–June 2003

June 2003–Jan. 2007

Portrait of William (Bill) W. Parsons, Jr.

Jan. 2007–Oct. 2008

NASA Associate Administrator Robert Cabana.

Oct. 2008–May 2021

A portrait of Kennedy Space Center Director Janet Petro.

May 2021–present

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

On Sept. 1, 1961, NASA requested appropriations for initial land purchases on Merritt Island to support the Apollo Lunar Landing Program. This land eventually became the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) we know today. The first request was for a 200-square-mile area immediately north and west of existing Cape Canaveral launch pads. On March 7, 1962, the Launch Operations Center (LOC) was established as an independent NASA field center located on Merritt Island. In November 1963, President Lyndon Johnson designated the facilities of the Launch Operations Center and Station No. 1 of the Atlantic Missile Range as the John F. Kennedy Space Center. The Air Force subsequently changed the name of the Cape Canaveral Missile Test Annex to Cape Kennedy Air Force Station.

KSC first began making its mark on the Merritt Island side of the Banana River after acquiring property there in the early 1960s. Designers quickly began developing plans for Launch Complex 39 facilities which include the Launch Control Center, Pads A & B as well as the huge hangar we know as the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). In February 1964, construction on the Central Instrumentation Facility (CIF) began. The CIF is the core of instrumentation and data processing operations at KSC, which includes offices, laboratories and test stations. Formerly known as the Manned Spacecraft Operations Building, the Operations and Checkout Building (O&C) was opened during the fall of 1964 and was used to test Apollo spacecraft, and the Command and Lunar modules. With the start of shuttle operations, it was utilized to process and integrate shuttle experiments and payloads.

The well thought-out designs of the Cape Canaveral Spaceport have stood the test of time. The story starts with the first basic structures where early NASA program teams were housed on Air Force property at Cape Canaveral. For example, Hangar S, built in the 1950s for the Vanguard program at what is now Cape Canaveral Space Force Station (CCSFS), was used by NASA for Mercury and Gemini and then for its unmanned space program.

In recent years CCSFS and KSC have been jointly referred to as the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. The name reflects a growing partnership between KSC and the 45th Space Wing and a vision for the future of Florida’s Space Coast.

NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center has played a pivotal role in NASA’s mission, having been the departure site for the first human journey to the moon; the starting point for hundreds of scientific, commercial, and applications spacecraft; and as the base for Space Shuttle launch and landing operations.