Cape Canaveral, from the Spanish Cabo Cañaveral, is a headland in Brevard County, Florida, United States, near the center of the state's Atlantic coast. Known as Cape Kennedy from 1963 to 1973, it lies east of Merritt Island, separated from it by the Banana River.
It is part of a region known as the Space Coast, and is the site of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Since many U.S. spacecraft are launched from both the station and the Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island, the terms "Cape Canaveral," "Canaveral", or "the Cape" have become metonyms that refer to both as the launch site of spacecraft. In homage to its spacefaring heritage, the Florida Public Service Commission allocated area code 321 to the Cape Canaveral area.
Other features of the cape include the Cape Canaveral lighthouse and Port Canaveral. The city of Cape Canaveral is a few miles south of the cape. Mosquito Lagoon, the Indian River, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Canaveral National Seashore are also features of this area.
In the early 16th century Cape Canaveral was noted on maps, although without being named. It was named by Spanish explorers in the first half of the 16th century as Cabo Cañareal. The name "Canaveral" (Cañaveral in Spanish) is the third oldest surviving European place name in the U.S. The first application of the name, according to the Smithsonian Institution, was from the 1521–1525 explorations of Spanish explorer Francisco Gordillo. A point of land jutting out into an area of the Atlantic Ocean with swift currents, it became a landing spot for many shipwrecked sailors. An early alternate name was "Cape of Currents." By at least 1564, the name appeared on maps.
English privateer Master John Hawkins and his journalist John Sparke gave an account of their landing at Cape Canaveral in the 16th century. A Presbyterian missionary was wrecked here and lived among the Indians. Other histories tell of French survivors from Jean Ribault's Fort Caroline whose ship the Trinite wrecked on the shores of Cape Canaveral and from whose timbers a fort was built.
Because of the hazards of the cape to shipping, the first Cape Canaveral Lighthouse was built and completed in 1843.
The 1890 graduating class of Harvard University started a gun club called the "Canaveral Club" at the Cape. This was founded by C.B. Horton of Boston and George H. Reed. A number of distinguished visitors including presidents Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison were reported to have stayed here. In the 1920s the grand building fell in disrepair and later burned to the ground.
In the 20th century several communities sprang up in Cape Canaveral. The area was predominantly a farming and fishing community. The town was formerly called Artesia.
In the 1930s a group of wealthy journalists started a community called "Journalista" which is now called Avon by the Sea. The Brossier brothers built houses in this area and started a publication entitled the Evening Star Reporter that was the forerunner of the Orlando Sentinel.
The first rocket launch from the Cape was Bumper 8 from Launch Complex 3 on July 24, 1950. On February 6, 1959 the first successful test firing of a Titan intercontinental ballistic missile was accomplished. NASA's Project Mercury and Gemini space flights were launched from Cape Canaveral, as was Apollo 7.
Cape Canaveral was chosen for rocket launches to take advantage of the Earth's rotation. The linear velocity of the Earth's surface is greatest towards the equator; the relatively southerly location of the cape allows rockets to take advantage of this by launching eastward, in the same direction as the Earth's rotation. It is also highly desirable to have the downrange area sparsely populated, in case of accidents; an ocean is ideal for this. The east coast of Florida has logistical advantages over potential competing sites. The Spaceport Florida Launch Complex 46 of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is at the tip of the cape.
Post offices in the area were called Artesia from 1893–1954; Port Canaveral from1954-1962; and Cape Canaveral from 1962 to the present.
From 1963 to 1973, the area was re-named "Cape Kennedy." President John F. Kennedy set the goal of landing on the moon. After his assassination in 1963, his widow, Jacqueline Kennedy, suggested to President Lyndon Johnson that renaming the Cape Canaveral facility would be an appropriate memorial. Johnson recommended the renaming of the entire cape, announced in a televised address six days after the assassination. Accordingly, Cape Canaveral was officially renamed Cape Kennedy.
Although the name change was approved by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names of the Interior Department in 1964, it was not popular in Florida, especially in the neighboring city of Cape Canaveral. In 1973, the Florida Legislature passed a law restoring the former 400-year-old name, and the Board went along. The name restoration to Cape Canaveral became official on October 9, 1973. The Kennedy family issued a letter stating they "understood the decision". NASA's Kennedy Space Center retains the "Kennedy" name.