Economic Development

Cambridge, Mass.: Space Center That Wasn't

In the 1960s, Cambridge, Mass., was all set to launch NASA's electronics hub -- until the hub was relocated to Houston.
by | August 31, 2011

“Cambridge, we have a problem,” might not have a familiar ring to it. But this could have been the famous phrase uttered by the astronauts of Apollo 13 in 1970.

In the 1960s, Cambridge, Mass., officials lobbied NASA to bring its new $64 million space center to Kendall Square, a former industrial neighborhood that needed a boost. With President John F. Kennedy’s support, Cambridge was successful and the city’s redevelopment authority reportedly delivered 14 acres for NASA buildings in Kendall Square’s 42-acre urban renewal zone. Land was razed. Businesses were relocated. Buildings were built.

Cambridge was all set to launch NASA’s electronics research hub. But after Kennedy’s assassination, congressional support faded. In the blink of an eye, and allegedly without warning, NASA pulled the project out of Cambridge to relocate in Houston.

It was a devastating blow at the time, but the mission wasn’t a complete failure. In recent decades, Kendall Square has transformed into a high-tech hot spot, which now houses some 150 biotechnology and information technology firms. As states undergo transitions in the wake of NASA’s 30-year-old shuttle program, this tale from Cambridge offers a valuable lesson in how local governments can renovate former space centers -- or those that never took off -- into successful economic engines of the future.

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