Moonport: A History of Apollo Launch Facilities and Operations

Recommending a Launch Site

During the month of July, the NASA-Air Force team considered eight sites:

  • Cape Canaveral
  • Offshore from Cape Canaveral
  • Mayaguana Island in the Bahamas
  • Cumberland Island, Georgia
  • A mainland site near Brownsville, Texas
  • White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico
  • Christmas Island in the mid-Pacific south of Hawaii
  • South Point on the island of Hawaii
Of the eight, the Debus-Davis Report estimated that White Sands would cost the least to develop and operate. These advantages were offset by its landlocked location; the lack of water transport would virtually dictate construction of the space vehicle assembly plant and test-firing stands near White Sands. Cost alone eliminated the island sites of Mayaguana, Christmas, and Hawaii, where construction and operation costs would be more than twice the estimates for White Sands or Cape Canaveral. The islands also posed severe problems of logistics. Although Brownsville costs were reasonable, launches from the Texas coast entailed a serious over-flight hazard for populated areas in the southeastern United States. Construction costs for an offshore complex at Cape Canaveral ran about 10% more than the costs of land purchase and development on shore, and maintenance estimates for the off shore sites were much higher.15

Cumberland Island enjoyed some of Cape Canaveral's advantages: accessibility to deep water transport and railroads and no problem with overflight or booster impact. However, the Air Force listed a number of problems at Cumberland:

  • Interference with the Intracoastal Waterway.
  • Expensive launch area instrumentation would have to be duplicated.
  • Land-based instrumentation for the early portion of flight would not be available.
  • Extensive communications tie-ins with Cape Canaveral and downrange stations would be necessary.
  • Towns in the area were small. The local economy might not support the large influx of people.
  • The land area involved was primarily marshland.16
The Air Force listed only two disadvantages for Cape Canaveral: comparatively expensive land acquisition and higher-than-average cost for electrical power and water. Among the advantages for the Cape, the Air Force noted that "The Titusville-Cocoa-Melbourne area of Florida is a dynamic area which has been continuously growing with Cape Canaveral since the Cape's inception. Therefore, we expect a minimum of problems in the further area expansion which will be necessary for this program." Since "practically the entire local area population is missile oriented," the Air Force foresaw a "minimum of public relations type problems due to missile hazards and inconveniences."17

The NASA portion of the report cited two disadvantages at the Cape: labor conditions and the possibility of hurricanes. Local lore assured Canaveral newcomers that the eye of a hurricane had never passed over the area. Hurricanes had indeed passed near Merritt Island in 1885, 1893, 1926, and 1960 - one year before.18 As for its labor problem, Florida had never been an industrial state. Skilled workers in most categories were scarce, nonexistent in others. This meant that NASA and its contractors would not only have to call in engineers, scientists, and other experts from all parts of the country, but would have to attract craftsmen or train local men on the job for a wide variety of skills. Along with the men, manufactured goods would have to pour in from elsewhere, "such as copper wire, power and instrumentation cable, transformers, oil circuit breakers, generators" - to list but a few.19

Some shortcomings of the Cape went unmentioned in the report. Debus subsequently stated: "The chief drawback with this particular site was the danger of being swallowed up by the existing organization."20 This concern perhaps underlay the interest in Cumberland Island. There were also doubts as to the area's ability to support the Apollo program. Remoteness a positive factor in the matter of safety - had its disadvantages in the lack of housing, stores, schools, and recreational facilities for new residents. The fastest growing county in the nation, Brevard had scarcely been able to keep up with the needs of pre-NASA expansion. Debus was keenly aware of the impact of a NASA-engendered boom on the people of Brevard County, an interest that later took such forms as a Community Impact Committee set up by Debus, Davis, and Governor Farris Bryant of Florida.21