Port Canaveral lies on a barrier island, Canaveral Island, running along the southeast coast of the US on the Atlantic Ocean. Cape Canaveral is the seaward extension of Canaveral Island and a city in Brevard County, Florida. The cape area is famous as the site of operations for the United States’ space program run by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, the cape was renamed after him; however, it reverted to its original Spanish name in 1973.
The world’s second busiest cruise port, almost 5 million cruise passengers visit Port Canaveral every year. Spicing up local attractions are two casino ships that call the port home. This deep water port also handles over three million tons of cargo each year.
Famous Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon visited the area in 1513. But the cape was largely uninhabited until after World War II. The US began testing missiles there in 1950, and it became the US’s base for space exploration after NASA was formed in 1958. The City of Cape Canaveral was incorporated in 1962, and it was home to almost 9,000 people in 2000.
The United States’ first manned flight into outer space departed Cape Canaveral in 1961. The ship that first landed on the moon, bringing Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin, and Michael Collins, was launched from Cape Canaveral in July 1969.
Today, Port Canaveral is home to the John F. Kennedy Space Center, complete with shuttle-landing facility, the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, an assembly building for space vehicles, and a visitor’s center.
The space center is located inside the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, occupying over 200 square miles of seacoast habitat and much of Merritt Island. It preserves a thousand plant and 500 wildlife species, including some endangered species (like manatees and sea turtles, and is an important stopping point for migratory birds.
The north section of the refuge overlaps the Canaveral National Seashore. Established in 1975, the seashore park covers about 90 square miles of undeveloped barrier beach. It contains many shell middens and mounds build by the indigenous Timucua people. The National Seashore is an important habitat for over 300 species of birds, and it provides important nesting grounds for sea turtles.