Moonport: A History of Apollo Launch Facilities and Operations

A New Home in Georgia?

When the news spread that NASA was investigating launch sites, a group of Georgia businessmen suggested the coastal islands of their state. A survey team of NASA, Air Force, and Pan American personnel found many advantages at Cumberland Island: undeveloped land, railroad facilities, a coastal waterway, and port facilities. The team concluded that Cumberland Island merited further investigation as a site for launching large rockets.4

Beginning near the Florida state line, Cumberland Island extends north for 32 kilometers. It varies in width, being some 5 kilometers at the widest point. Extensive tidal flats, saltwater marshes, and the Intracoastal Waterway separate it from the Georgia mainland. Deepwater docks along the Intracoastal Waterway provided access to cheap water transportation. King's Bay Ammunition Facility was close at hand, owned by the government, with readily accessible railroad sidings. Anticipated real estate costs were relatively low; to the north, however, were expensive island resorts.

In the meantime, the Air Force went ahead with proposals to purchase 93 square kilometers adjacent to Cape Canaveral at an estimated cost of $10 million. 5 One month after the Mercury flight of Alan Shepard, General Ostrander and Samuel Snyder from NASA Headquarters, Eberhard Rees from Huntsville, and Debus met with a group at Cape Canaveral on 5 June 1961. The conferees agreed that the NASA program would require more than the 93 square kilometers. A few days later, General Ostrander suggested that the group give greater consideration to Cumberland Island.6 An ad hoc committee under the chairmanship of William A. Fleming began work on 8 May. Its report, turned in on 16 June, spoke favorably of the southeast Georgia site. "There are alternate possibilities, besides AMR . . . One of the most promising . . . is the King's Bay area along the Georgia coast . . ."7

The advantages of the Canaveral area were nevertheless overwhelming. It lay at the head of the Atlantic Missile Range, a series of tracking stations that reached southeastward almost 9,000 kilometers to Ascension Island (with further extensions under way for the Mercury program). Its trained personnel had launched many missiles. No big cities stood in danger from accidental explosions or wandering missiles. The noise would not disturb a large civilian population. Finally, while the Cape itself was filled up, there was room for expansion on Merritt Island and along the coastline north of False Cape.

The Canaveral area and Cumberland Island shared one advantage over other possible sites. Barges from Huntsville could sail down the Tennessee, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers, through the Gulf, and up the east coast of Florida. In view of the mammoth proportions of the Saturn and Nova boosters under consideration as moon vehicles, this access to barge transport was an important consideration.