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From the Field

It's the Little Things That Bug Me
By Kent Shocknek

It’s the little things that bug me: you wanna know my pet peeve, and how it can make you a couple of bucks in a bet at the bar?

It’s all about that place, from which they launch the space shuttle. You know the place, right? It’s Cape Canaveral. Wrong. The space shuttle launches from Kennedy Space Center. Yup, everybody in the world gets it wrong.
First, the geography. The Kennedy Space Center is located on an “island, “ separated from mainland Florida, by a salt-water river. It’s called Merritt Island; a little chunk (actually, a pretty good sized chunk) of land that’s mostly taken up by a wildlife refuge.

Cape Canaveral is a point of land that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean, about 10 miles south of KSC. Don’t believe me: bet me, and then look on a map. They are not the “same thing.” So why do all news service datelines and network reporters and producers get it wrong?
Simple: back in the early days of the space program, the US did launch missiles and rockets from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, there on Florida’s east coast. Even in the early days of manned flight. But then we started pushing up the bigger stuff, and we needed a bigger facility.
Solution: move up the coast (away from the Cape), take over part of the refuge, and launch really big rockets (all the moon shots and shuttles). All, blasting off from THE KENNEDY SPACE CENTER.

The trouble is, the whole world was used to seeing reports from “Cape Canaveral.” And to complicate things, the US still does launch unmanned rockets from the Cape—all those things that keep going to mars, or into earth-orbit, or wherever. It drives the locals nuts. I used to live on Merritt Island and report from the Space Center. Residents are proud to call it “theirs.” Proudest of all, are the good folks of Titusville, county seat of the county where both KSC and Cape Canaveral are located, and the city that’s actually closest to the Center.

Man, do Titusvillians hate people who say shuttle launches happen at the Cape. I asked respected space reporters Roy Neal of NBC and the late Jules Bergman of ABC why they kept saying “Cape Canaveral.” Basically, they said “It’s what people are used to.” Yea, well, earlier groups were used to the idea the world was flat. So every time there’s a shuttle launch, I tell the writer and the chyron guy “It’s not Cape Canaveral, it’s the Kennedy Space Center.” And they look at me like I’m crazy. Maybe I am. Because I keep pushing for us to say it right, knowing that the rest of the world will never come around. I wouldn’t mind so much, but I’ve never even made one of those bets at the bar. A couple of diet cokes and I’m ready to move on.

About the Author
KENT SHOCKNEK , of KCBS-TV, started reporting from the Kennedy Space Center AND Cape Canaveral before the first space shuttle launch. He has covered more than 70 shuttle launches and landings, including the Challenger mission, from the moment of lift-off.