‘Space: The Florida Frontier’: A blast from the past and peek into the future — 50 years after Apollo 11

(WSVN) - The space race that landed Americans on the moon also transformed the Sunshine State. Now, 50 years later, a blast from the past and a look to the future. 7News reporter Brian Entin has this special assignment report: “Space: The Florida Frontier.”

Neil Armstrong: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Years before the historic moonwalk…

WCKT 7 Anchor Wayne Fariss, in early 1960s: “In 1961, President Kennedy made the decision to fire moon rockets from the Cape.”

…Plans for the out-of-this-world mission were underway here on Earth — right here in Florida.

Wayne Fariss: “With the development of Cape Canaveral as this nation’s command post in the space age, Florida has been thrust into the midst of this exciting adventure.”

This black-and-white film is from the early 1960s — back when WSVN was called WCKT-Television.

At the time, 7News viewers watched coverage of what our station called the “Lunar Boom.”

Official from 1960s: “The objective, as you know, is to put an American on the moon and to return him by the end of this decade.”

The decade was marked by a shift from a state known for citrus and tourists, to an economy focused on jobs in science and technology.

Wayne Fariss: “The magic word is Nova — giant moon flow expected to rocket South Florida into an industrial era.”

Miami-Dade and Broward schools boosted math and science curriculums, and at the University of Miami, they conducted hydrogen rocket tests.

UM Dean in 1960s: “He proposed a program to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.”

More than 50 years later, NASA and UM are still working together.

Dr. Victoria Coverstone, University of Miami: “There has been a continuous stream of innovations that have come from UM, and it has led to where we are now.”

Dr. Victoria Coverstone is the chair of UM’s mechanical and aerospace engineering program.

The professor was also a finalist to fly in a space shuttle in the 1990s, but vision issues ended her astronaut aspirations.

Dr. Victoria Coverstone: “At that point, I said, ‘If I couldn’t fly in these vehicles, I want to design them,  and I want to be a part of training the people that will fly in them.'”

NASA recently chose UM students to design ways to grow and maintain fresh food in deep space, and these UM renderings show small satellites that one day could carry a special radar to beam back detailed images of ocean currents.

More than a half-century after the 1960s space race, a sign of the times is hidden here, down this road in the Everglades. This rocket test site has long been abandoned, but the company that operated it all those years ago is still around.

The company — now called Aerojet Rocketdyne — has been in South Florida since the early ’60s and tested a powerful rocket engine earlier this year in Palm Beach County.

George Prueger, Chief Engineer, Aerojet Rocketdyne: “We supplied the propulsion systems for the Saturn V vehicle that supported the Apollo program.”

These days, rocket scientists are busy testing engines with 3D printed parts.

The materials cut down on costs but still must stand up to the extreme temperatures of space flight.

George Prueger: “Minus 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Right on the other side, you’re talking close to 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit. We’re pushing the edge of technology for these materials.”

Scientists– still pushing boundaries in Florida a half-century after the mission that changed everything.

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