A journey to America’s Space Coast, where UAE’s historic Moon mission will take flight

Residents of Cape Canaveral and Merritt Island see rockets launch into the skies almost every week

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Barry Pendley may appear at first glance to be an unassuming tour guide taking visitors on relaxing boat rides along the coastal waters of Cape Canaveral.

But passengers jumping on board for a scenic trip will soon find this view transformed.

Like many in this Florida city, he has reached for the stars and is eager to show why America's Space Coast is so special.

Mr Pendley, 63, spent more than two decades working for the Space Shuttle programme — which operated crewed flights to space — while his father was part of the Apollo programme which focused on missions to the Moon.

“I retired from my space career in 2012 after the Shuttle programme ended,” he said.

“I started giving tours because I grew up here and I’m very proud of this area. I want people to know why this place is so special.”

Mr Pendley is one of many retired space professionals who still lives in a place synonymous with space travel and exploration.

It will be the launch pad for a chapter in the UAE's space programme, as the country gears up for its first Moon mission.

A city of rocket launches

The enormous area includes the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station — a launch site operated by the US Space Force — and the Nasa-operated Kennedy Space Centre.

A series of momentous launches have taken place here since the birth of the US space programme in the 1950s, including that of Alan Shepard, the first American in space, and the Apollo missions.

Inside the US 'Space Coast' from where historic UAE missions will lift-off

Inside the US 'Space Coast' from where historic UAE missions will lift-off

“During the Moon missions, you talk about a loud rocket that would shake and rattle your doors even way down there,” Mr Pendley said.

In this new space era, companies such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX are keeping launch pads busy with almost weekly launches of the Falcon 9 rocket.

The increased access to space is now also helping emerging space nations such as the UAE who do not have a launch capability make their mark.

“With the advent of SpaceX and United Launch Alliance, we've had a lot of missions going to space, and to the International Space Station,” Mr Pendley said.

“So, we've had a lot of people from all over the world launching from here.”

From missile testing to space exploration

Today, Cape Canaveral may be known as a launch site for space exploration missions, but it supported missile testing in the early days.

Gary Dahlke, 62, is a volunteer at the Sands Space History Centre, a museum that focuses on the launch history of the cape.

“The cape has been a central area of support for both test launches for the military and space exploration,” said Mr Dahkle, who has been a volunteer at the museum since 1992 and has a career in space that spans more than three decades.

“In 1960, the cape had set a record of over 200 launches in a single year.

“In fact, in 1960, we had nine launches in one single day off of Cape Canaveral.

“That launch rate gradually tapered off. Again, many of those early launches were missile test flights.

“And as these missile programmes developed and matured, the need to do all of this initial testing dropped off.”

Now, SpaceX is helping set records at the Space Coast.

“Between Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Centre, we will see over 60 launches in this year, and we have not seen a launch rate like that since the 1960s,” Mr Dahkle said.

Arab missions launch from Florida

The UAE’s lunar rover Rashid, stored inside a Japanese lander, will launch on a Falcon 9 rocket from the Launch Complex 40 pad at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on November 28.

It is the Arab world’s first Moon mission, with the rover expected to reach the lunar surface by the end of next April.

Early next year, Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi will travel on a Falcon 9 rocket as part of the Nasa/SpaceX Crew-6 mission.

He will live and work on the International Space Station for six months, helping the UAE achieve the Arab world’s first long-duration space mission.

Next year, two Saudi citizens, including one woman, will launch on a Falcon 9 rocket as part of the AX-2 private mission to the space station — 37 years after the nation launched the first Arab into space on Nasa's Discovery space shuttle.

Timelapse footage shows how UAE's Rashid rover was built

Timelapse footage shows how the UAE's lunar rover was built

Timelapse footage shows how the UAE's lunar rover was built
Updated: November 23, 2022, 4:56 AM