THIS DAY IN HISTORY: President John F. Kennedy Visits NASA’s Launch Operations Center on Space Coast 6 Days Before His Death

By  //  November 16, 2023

November 16, 1963

60 years ago today, President John F. Kennedy visited NASA’s Launch Operations Center in Florida 6 days before his assassination.

BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – 60 years ago today, President John F. Kennedy visited NASA’s Launch Operations Center in Florida 6 days before his assassination.

The center would be renamed NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in his honor less than 2 weeks later.

On 16 November 1963, President Kennedy made a whirlwind visit to Canaveral and Merritt Island, his third visit in 21 months. Administrator Webb, Dr. Debus, and General Davis greeted the President as his Boeing 707 landed.

At launch complex 37 he was briefed on the Saturn program. The President then boarded a helicopter with Debus to view Merritt Island, and flew over the coast line to watch a successful Polaris launching from the nuclear submarine Andrew Jackson.

The next week the President died by an assassin’s bullet in Dallas, The new President, Lyndon B. Johnson, announced he was renaming the Cape Canaveral Auxiliary Air Force Base and NASA Launch Operations Center as the John F. Kennedy Space Center. With the support of Governor Farris Bryant of Florida, the President also changed the name of Cape Canaveral to Cape Kennedy. The next day he followed up his statement with Executive Order No. 11129. In this he did not mention a new name for the Cape, but did join the civilian and military installations under one name, thus causing some confusion. To clarify the matter, Administrator Webb issued a NASA directive changing the name of the Launch Operations Center to the “John F. Kennedy Space Center, NASA,” and an Air Force general order changed the name of the air base to the “Cape Kennedy Air Force Station.” The United States Board of Geographic Names of the Department of the Interior officially accepted the name Cape Kennedy for Cape Canaveral the following year.

People at the Cape seemed to approve the naming of the spaceport as a memorial to President Kennedy. Up to that time, the Launch Operations Center had only the descriptive name. Debus wrote a little later: “The renaming of our facilities to the John F. Kennedy Space Center, NASA, is the result of an Executive Order, but to me it is also fitting recognition to his personal and intense involvement in the National Space Program.”

Many in the Brevard area, however, felt that changing the name of Cape Canaveral, one of the oldest place-names in the country, dating back to the earliest days of Spanish exploration, was a mistaken gesture. After a stirring debate in the town council, the city of Cape Canaveral declined to change its name.*