What makes Florida 'the place' for space? Former astronauts weigh in

Posted at 7:13 AM, Jul 17, 2019

COCOA BEACH, Fla. -- For 50 years and beyond, Florida has been the place to get to space with its launch sites near Cocoa Beach.

The iconic Apollo 11 rocket to the Moon, being one of the many missions to have blasted off from the area known as Space Coast.

That astounding feat happened thanks to the perfection of training, but also a near-perfect spot for a spaceport, according to two-time shuttle astronaut Bruce Melnick.

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He said the ocean provides a safe, unpopulated area to launch rockets. Also, Florida's launch sites are close to the equator, which moves faster than the rest of the globe, giving spacecraft a boost.

“It’s all about physics," said Melnick. "Physics and safety. That’s what makes Florida the place.”

Many launches have taken advantage since Apollo 11. But, with private companies now investing in space, launch sites are no longer exclusive.

SpaceX is currently finishing up work on a facility in Texas. It comes after a bidding war between several states looking to secure the site and break into the space industry.

The market will undoubtedly get more crowded in the coming years, which has prompted Florida to try and maintain its edge. State lawmakers created the independent group Space Florida in 2006 to do that. It works to encourage space and aeronautical development in the Space Coast region and beyond.
Andy Allen, who served on three shuttle missions, has faith in that effort.

Also, Florida's already an established space infrastructure.

“Florida will always be the gateway," Allen said. “Florida is going to be the place you have to go if you want to go outside low Earth orbit.”

Space Coast has been having good years, recently. In 2018, officials saw their busiest since 1998 — 20 launches. Officials want 32 this year and are shooting for 48 by 2021.

NASA does plan on returning to the Moon, too. Currently, the group hopes to have astronauts on the lunar South Pole by 2024.