Sundays in Space: Remembering the first rocket launch from Cape Canaveral on July 24th, 1950

Mary Apel

First Launch, July 25, 1950 Image credit: NASA

Today marks 72 years since the first rocket was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, ushering in a new era in space flight.

The Bumper 2 was an ambitious two-stage rocket program that was able to reach almost 250 miles, record altitude at the time, and higher than the International Space Station’s orbit.

Launched under the direction of the General Electric Company, Bumper 2 was used primarily for testing rocket systems and for research on the upper atmosphere. The rockets carried small payloads that allowed them to measure things like air temperature and cosmic ray impacts. It would be seven more years before the Soviet Union launched Sputnik I and Sputnik II, the first satellites into Earth’s orbit.

See more about it here, “On This Day In Space” from

Cape Canaveral is now known to us as the home of Kennedy Space Center. According to WIRED magazine’s July 24, 1950: America Gets a Spaceport, Cape Canaveral was actually the second choice for the Air Force committee searching for missile range testing sites. The original site in California was rejected after the Mexican government refused to let rockets cross air space over Baja, California. (In fairness, the article notes that decision was likely influenced by a near miss in Juarez, Mexico, where a wayward rocket from the US had crashed into a cemetery.)

As it turns out, there are many other reasons why Cape Canaveral was the ideal location for rocket launch, and would eventually host an entire space program. Location, Location, Location…

At the time of the first rocket launch, the evolution of space exploration was rapid: President Harry Truman inked the legislation in 1949 establishing the Joint Long Range Proving Ground at Cape Canaveral. NASA was officially formed in 1958. The first spacecraft from Cape Canaveral departed in 1961 on May 5th. President John F. Kennedy’s pivotal “We choose to go to the moon” speech kicked NASA into high gear with a focus on the space center. (By the way, that is a fantastic speech, for all the ages. Watch it here.) After the President’s assassination, that center would eventually bear his name.

Current-day rocket launch,

As it stands, NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center (KSC) 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 ( And if you’re looking for a really cool space-themed Florida vacation, you can visit the Kennedy Space Center any time you want!

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