Breakdown: Why Florida is the hot spot for rocket launches

Updated: Feb. 23, 2020 at 11:07 AM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - For over 70 years, the National Aeronautics and Space Administrations or NASA, has launched rockets from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

With the warm and humid tropical weather, why did NASA choose the Sunshine State to launch these rocket-fueled ships. In this episode of The Breakdown, we tell you why rockets are launched along the Space Coast.

Rockets were not initially launched at Cape Canaveral and the turbulent weather might be the reason for that decision.

More thunderstorms erupt in Florida per year over any other state, which could hinder rocket launches. Lightning from thunderstorms can be devastating for rockets if they hit a rocket in mid-flight.

In fact, in 1987 lightning struck the AC-67 rocket near takeoff, causing systems to fail and it eventually exploded.

Hurricanes are another weather form that will affect rocket launches as they threaten Florida more than any other state. Nevertheless, NASA still uses the sunshine state for their outer space launches.

The first big reason is the proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. Prior to the Cape Canaveral, rockets were launched in White Sands Missile Range located in New Mexico.

The first rockets launched 62 miles above the earth’s surface -- the boundary marked the official start of outer space. White Sands Missile Range was a remote area of the country, so rockets could crash to earth and be easily recovered.

As rockets grew, the 100 square miles of White Sands Missile Range was outgrown, as rockets were needed to launch away from populated areas, which White Sands is a mere 26 miles west of Las Cruces, New Mexico and 70 miles North of El Paso, Texas.

The thought of Cape Canaveral, located along the coast, meant rockets launched could crash into the ocean and not threaten the U.S. mainland or majorly populated areas.

Operations moved to Florida in the 1950s and Florida’s “Space Coast” was born with the launch of a rocket called Bumper 8 on July 24, 1960, from what was then called Long Range Proving Ground Base on Cape Canaveral.

The second reasoning was its proximity to the equator.

“The west-to-east rotation of the Earth causes all points on Earth (except the poles themselves) to move eastward with some velocity,” stated NASA.

Eastward velocity is the highest at the equator with the Earth rotating at a speed of 1,040 mph. The speed then decreases closer to the poles. NASA uses this to their benefit by launching to the East over the ocean at the poles.

With earth’s rotation of 914 mph at Cape Canaveral, the speed of the rocket is boosted which saves on fuel that would be used to help the rocket make its proper speed to outer space.

This is the same reason why the European Space Agency launches its rockets from French Guiana, which is closer to the equator.

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