In today’s Academic Minute, Professor Charles Venuto of American Public University discusses the connection between the space program and preservation of bird habitat in Florida.
Charles Venuto is an adjunct professor of Environmental Science at the American Public University. He spent 30 years as the Environmental Manager dealing directly with the operations of Space Shuttles. He holds an EdS in Science Education from Florida Institute of Technology, a MS in Environmental Policy and Management from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and a MS in Environmental Science from Florida Institute of Technology.
Prof. Charles Venuto – The Space Program and Environmentalism
My research of the history of the Merritt Island Refuge in Florida indicates the Kennedy Administration deserves credit for fostering a culture that facilitated the birth of the modern day environmental movement in the United States. JFK surrounded himself with officials who had a deep concern for nature and human health.
Stuart Udall, his Secretary of the Interior, had a philosophy on the environment that bridged the gap between conservation, as practiced by the Theodore Roosevelt presidency, and modern environmentalism. Rachel Carson, famous for her exposition on pesticides in “Silent Spring,” was a member of the Kennedy campaign staff and also influenced the administration’s environmental policies.
During his administration, the country saw the first instance of federal funds spent for the acquisition of private lands to create a National Seashore at Cape Cod.
It was under JFK that more than 140,000 acres on Merritt Island were acquired for the space program to serve as a buffer from potentially errant rocket launches. Only a small portion is used for space operations--most of this relatively pristine land is untouched and supports a high diversity of wildlife.
National Audubon’s Allan Cruickshank worked for years to carve out a refuge on Merritt Island. He brought the region notoriety as the Merritt Island area led the nation for 10 consecutive years in the number of different bird species recorded during the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count. Part of the count area included what would become space center property. While Cruickshank provided the scientific foundation to create this refuge, the political will of the JFK administration was needed to make this a reality.
Hundreds of rockets have been launched from the Kennedy Space Center since its inception. Hundreds of thousands of birds have used the refuge as a home and migration resting place. This unique juxtaposition of high technology and nature demonstrates that man and wildlife can co-exist.