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As NASA’s Curiosity rover continues to inch across the red planet’s dusty Gale Crater, America’s interest in space exploration inches upward as well. Jeopardy!’s Ken Jennings is a bit of space nerd himself, and this month he’ll be navigating us through an asteroid belt of misconceptions about the exploration of the cosmos. Even if you’re not one of the 6 percent of Americans who believes that the moon landing was a hoax, you might have been fleeced by one or more of these fallacies about the final frontier.

Space Myth #2: American Space Missions Launch from Cape Canaveral.

If we’re using “Cape Canaveral” as an example of what your English teacher used to call metonymy—representing some thing or concept with the name of something else—then yes, NASA launches from the Cape. It’s the same way we might refer to the movie industry as “Hollywood,” even though only one major studio (Paramount) is actually headquartered in the Hollywood district these days—they’re all elsewhere in Los Angeles. The same is true of NASA: in strict geographical terms, it hasn’t launched manned missions from the Cape itself in over forty years.

Cape Canaveral is a dangly sand headland jutting southward off the Florida coast, and has been used by the Air Force as a missile testing ground since 1949. It was ideally suited for the nascent space program because it had the wide Atlantic Ocean downrange—a big safety plus—and was one of the southernmost bits of the continental United States, which gives launches the added oomph of the Earth’s faster rotation near the Equator. Way back in 1865, a Jules Verne novel had predicted that the first moon launch would take place in Florida. Most of America’s early rocket launches did indeed take place near the tip of the cape, where the Air Force still maintains a space installation.

Since 1968, however, all manned civilian launches have taken place a few miles north of the cape, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The launch complex, including the pads where every moon mission and Space Shuttle launch took place, aren’t really on Cape Canaveral itself, but on an adjacent peninsula called Merritt Island. Unmanned NASA launches—probes and the like—still use the Cape, since they typically catch a ride on Air Force rockets. But no astronaut has taken off from Cape Canaveral proper since Gemini 12, when newspapers still cost a dime and Bonanza was America’s top-rated TV show. Of course, NASA isn’t launching astronauts at all anymore since the shuttle program was shuttered, but when we put a man or woman back in space again—and it will happen someday—it probably won’t be from Cape Canaveral.

Quick Quiz: Since 1999, what has been the telephone area code of Brevard County, Florida, in honor of its history of space launches?

Ken Jennings is the author of Because I Said So!, Brainiac, Ken Jennings's Trivia Almanac, and Maphead. He's also the proud owner of an underwhelming Bag o' Crap. Follow him at ken-jennings.com or on Twitter as @KenJennings.

wer4geeks


quality posts: 0 Private Messages wer4geeks

Quiz answer: 321. Before that, 407.

I'm a cheat, though- Merritt Island native and student at the Florida Institute of Technology a short drive south in Melbourne. Thanks for addressing this annoying misconception! If you're ever in Brevard, stop by to visit the telescope and have a beer.

saregos


quality posts: 0 Private Messages saregos

321.

Also, I'll note that *unmanned* NASA missions do regularly launch from the Cape. For example, Curiosity, TDRS and LRO/LCROSS have all launched fairly recently.

However, I cheat. I'm currently sitting in an office on Cape Canaveral.

curtise


quality posts: 20 Private Messages curtise

Having insider information because you are actually where the question is about is not the same thing as cheating.
I guessed and then "cheated" by using the Google to confirm. You both answered based on actual first-hand knowledge, so no cheating occurred.
Nicely played!
-=C=-

RocRizzo


quality posts: 2 Private Messages RocRizzo

The military launch pads are at Cape Canaveral. The manned pads, 41a and 41b are on Merritt Island, AFAIK.
They are all part of KSC.

"Understanding is a three-edged sword."

RocRizzo


quality posts: 2 Private Messages RocRizzo
wer4geeks wrote: If you're ever in Brevard, stop by to visit the telescope and have a beer.



Where, at BCC? I meant to take a trip there a couple of years ago when I visited KSC, but time didn't allow it. Perhaps next visit.

"Understanding is a three-edged sword."

wer4geeks


quality posts: 0 Private Messages wer4geeks
RocRizzo wrote:Where, at BCC? I meant to take a trip there a couple of years ago when I visited KSC, but time didn't allow it. Perhaps next visit.



Nah, Florida Tech. BCC is cool, but FIT has some seriously awesome labs and research going on (including the largest privately owned research telescope in the southeasteren US). It's a school more-or-less full of rocket scientists.

alanhwoot


quality posts: 38 Private Messages alanhwoot

You'll also see references to Cape Kennedy. When LBJ renamed the space center, he went even further and got the name of the actual cape changed too.

Nobody objected to naming the space center after Kennedy, but Canaveral was n historic name that people didn't like losing.

It was quietly changed back to Canaveral in the 1970s.

whoiskenjennings


quality posts: 7 Private Messages whoiskenjennings

Guest Blogger

Very nice, "321" is indeed the Cape Canaveral area code. I think this was a Final Jeopardy clue once.

And yes, unmanned missions do still launch from the Air Force base on the actual cape. As the piece says, for the moment, "unmanned" is the only kind of mission NASA operates.