On July 24, 1950, Bumper 8, a modified German World War II V-2 rocket, became the first ever rocket to be launched from Cape Canaveral. Cape Canaveral already became the test site for missiles the year before, and was chosen for rocket launches to take advantage of the Earth’s rotation, because of its southern location.
In 1949, U.S. President Harry Truman established the Joint Long Range Proving Grounds at Cape Canaveral to test missiles. The location had the great advantage that it allowed launches over the Atlantic Ocean and is closer to the equator which allows rockets to get a boost from Earth‘s rotation. On May 17, 1950, the base was renamed the Long Range Proving Ground Base. However, about three months later the base was renamed Patrick Air Force Base, in honor of Army Maj. Gen. Mason Patrick. In 1951, the Air Force established the Air Force Missile Test Center. In order to study problems pertaining to two-stage, high-speed rockets, the RTV-G-4 Bumper rocket was built by the Unites Sates as a combination of the V-2 rocket and WAC Corporal sounding rocket. The tests began in May 1948 and while the first six were performed in White Sands, the seventh (Bumper 8) became the first ever rocket to be launched from Cape Canaveral.
The Bumper Program
The bumper was the first multi-stage rocket with liquid fuels. The first stage was a modified A4 missile captured in Germany towards the end of World War II, while the second stage was a modified version of the American WAC missile. The bumper was started six times from the White Sands Missile Range and twice from Cape Canaveral. However, only three of the eight attempts were successful. Both altitude and speed records were set:
- 24. February 1949: Altitude record: 393 km
- 29 July 1950: Speed record: 5260 km/h
Further sub-orbital rocket flights were achieved at Cape Canaveral in 1956 and after the Soviet Union‘s successful Sputnik 1, the first launch of an artificial satellite from Cape Canaveral was attempted in 1957. Unfortunately, the rocket carrying Vanguard TV3 blew up on the launch pad.
NASA and Further Spaceflight
In 1958, NASA was founded and to its early manned spaceflight programs belonged Mercury and Gemini followed by several launches in preparation for the Apollo program, which required the Saturn family of rockets. The first four Saturn I development launches were made between October 1961 and March 1963. The final test launch and five operational launches took place in 1964 and ’65. The unmanned, first Earth orbital test flight of the Apollo Lunar Module took place in 1968 and in the early 1970s, NASA modified the Kennedy Space Center launch complex to handle the Saturn IB for the Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz Test Project launches.
References and Further Reading:
-  Kennedy Space Center Website
-  Cape Canaveral at NASA Tech
-  The Bumper Project at White Sands History