Q: A friend of mine from Florida and I were recently arguing about whose state is better. He won the argument about beaches (I love you, Port A, but let’s not fool ourselves), and I won the arguments about sports, food, hiking, historical heritage, and hunting. But then he really took me aback. He said, “Well, our space program kicks your space program’s butt.” And I was like, “What?” And he was like, “Yeah, Houston is just an appendage of Cape Canaveral.” I didn’t even know how to respond. What should I have said?
Justin Peterson, San Antonio
A: Your Floridian friend said what was an appendage of where?! That who kicks what’s butt?! Is the Texanist reading that correctly? And did he really single out Cape Canaveral without even mentioning the Kennedy Space Center, which is located on nearby Merritt Island? Together, Cape Canaveral, home to the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and the Kennedy Space Center, home to the Launch Control Center, constitute the bulk of the middle part of the eastern shore of Florida that is appropriately known as the Space Coast. If your so-called friend is unaware of this, then he’s not much of an expert on space travel or Florida. But maybe you enjoy hanging out with geographically and historically ignorant galoots who speak to their buddies in an oddly belligerent manner. To each his own.
Still, to the central point of your disagreement with this disagreeable friend: the Texanist is the Texanist and not the Floridianist, but even he knows that the Space Coast has been integral to our nation’s space program. Heck, everybody knows this. In fact, every single rocket that has blasted off from the United States mainland with an American on board, starting with the Mercury Redstone 3 and going all the way up through the last flight of the space shuttle, in 2011, has done so from launchpads at either Cape Canaveral or the Kennedy Space Center. (Again, if the Texanist were the Floridianist instead of the Texanist, he’d take this opportunity to point out the fun fact that in 1999 the Florida Public Service Commission approved a new area code for the Space Coast area and that area code, in homage to the liftoff countdowns, is 321.)
Starting with the fourth Gemini mission, in 1965, though, NASA’s Launch Control Center started handing over post-launch control of the rocket ships to the newly minted Mission Control Center, located in Houston. The Texanist has no interest in debating the importance of launch control versus mission control, which would be as futile as arguing the old chicken-and-egg puzzler. Like Bum Phillips and Earl Campbell or Willie and Trigger, the two work in conjunction.
The fact is, both Texas’ and Florida’s contributions have been in service of the same goal. Were the Space Coast and Space City to engage in an actual butt-kicking contest, the Texanist would be forced to eventually pull them apart, dust them off, call a draw, remind them that they are kin, make them shake hands, and then buy them a few beers so they could laugh it all off. (And he would refrain from mentioning that Florida has birthed fewer than half the number of astronauts that Texas has—fewer than Massachusetts, even.)
The National Aeronautics and Space Agency is, after all, known as the National Aeronautics and Space Agency, not the Florida Aeronautics and Space Agency nor the Texas Aeronautics and Space Agency. Texas congressman Albert Thomas, the House Appropriations Committee chair who played a big part in locating the Johnson Space Center in our fair state, was quoted at the time as saying that “the road to the moon is through Houston,” which is an accurate though not literal statement. It is incumbent on the Texanist, however, to acknowledge that the very same road wends its way through the Space Coast too.
So what should you have said to the gauche Gator? Well, since he brought up the business about appendages, maybe you should have made a crude comment about the shape of the state of Florida (another category in which Texas clearly has the upper hand). The Texanist bets that would have cooled his jets. But even if you don’t go there, congratulations on what is already a decisive victory in your friendly Florida-versus-Texas contest.
Have a question for the Texanist? He’s always available here. Be sure to tell him where you’re from.