In 1961, a sleepy strip of Florida’s eastern coastline got a wake-up call. President John F. Kennedy had just delivered a stirring speech to Congress extolling the importance of sending an astronaut to the moon before the decade's end, and NASA had announced it would be building a state-of-the-art launch facility to support this mission. The chosen location? Merritt Island, just a hop away from Cape Canaveral.
NASA selected Merritt Island for a couple of reasons. First, its East Coast position on the Florida peninsula means that spacecraft can be launched over open water—a safer alternative to launching over populated areas. Second, its proximity to the Equator means that Earth's spin there is slightly stronger, giving an extra boost to