NASA Declares War - On Mosquitoes

The Spaceport News had its share of sensational headlines during 1963, especially in May when Astronaut Gordon Cooper took Faith 7 into an earth orbit on a Mercury-Atlas launch vehicle from pad 14. But none quite reached the unique quality of a headline in the 8 August issue: "Peaceful NASA Declares War - On Mosquitoes."4 It may well have been the most necessary, well-executed, and successful war in American history. For reasons of health and comfort, the mosquito population had to be reduced before workers could begin any sustained outdoor work during the prime mosquito season from April to late October. In the past, epidemics of malaria, yellow fever, and dengue (an infectious fever prevalent in warm climates) - all spread by mosquitoes - had periodically retarded the development of Florida. The discovery and application of successful methods of mosquito control had been one of the factors responsible for the state's rapid development in relatively recent years.

Almost from the outset, the mosquito figured prominently in NASA's operations. LVOD's Deputy Chief of the Mechanical, Structural, and Propulsion Office, Robert Gorman, spoke of the early days: "The mosquitoes were so bad.... Everyone wore long shirt sleeves and gloves, even in the summer.... In fact, one fellow with sensitive skin really got chewed up. He stayed in Huntsville after that." In recalling the first Redstone launch from the Cape, Gorman remarked: "You couldn't wear a white shirt. The mosquitoes would be so thick they'd turn it black." In an interview two years later, James Finn, who had come to the Joint Long Range Proving Ground in 1951 and joined the original Debus team in May 1954, said that "the mosquitoes were a hazard - but so was the mosquito repellant. . . . If any got on our badges, it rubbed our pictures off."5

The problem was at first almost unbelievable to all but former residents of the area. One acre of salt marsh was easily capable of producing 50,000,000 adult mosquitoes within a week after a heavy rainfall. The "landing rate" in bad areas was often more than 500 mosquitoes on a person in one minute. In 1962, two scientists from the Florida Entomological Research Center in Vero Beach collected with hand nets 1.6 kilograms of live mosquitoes in just one hour.

By April 1963, the Subcommittee on Mosquito Control of the Joint Community Impact Coordination Committee [see chapter 5-4] agreed upon a cooperative program using the services of the county, state, Air Force Missile Test Center, and the Launch Operations Center. The program sought both temporary and permanent control. At the time, the main breeding grounds of the salt-marsh mosquito included 57.7 square kilometers in northern Brevard County and 4.3 square kilometers in southern Volusia County. Within the Merritt Island Launch Area were also hundreds of acres capable of producing fresh-water mosquitoes.

The temporary control measures consisted of ground and aerial spraying of insecticide. The most effective permanent control on the Merritt Island Launch Area consisted of the construction of dikes to flood breeding areas during the peak summer months. With the flooding of marshes, the minnow population increased and mosquito eggs and larvae declined.

The Brevard County Mosquito Control District also agreed to continue work at the Merritt Island Launch Area. The county provided four draglines, two spray planes, and a helicopter for inspection purposes. The Launch Operations Center and the Air Force Missile Test Center provided two draglines and one bulldozer to accelerate the permanent control work that the county was doing. The Launch Operations Center supplied the insecticide and operated the ground fogging equipment. The State of Florida provided direct financial aid and scientific research. The master plan had originally estimated six years to accomplish reasonable mosquito control in the Merritt Island Launch Area. Fortunately the program moved much faster than that.6

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