Review – Abandoned in Place: Preserving America’s Space History
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Visitors to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Launch Complex 34 might view the site as a forlorn relic of a bygone age, the era of when humans walked on another world. For others, it stands as mute testimony to past lessons learned – which should not be forgotten in the future. As NASA looks to future destinations deep in space, one author and space historian takes us back to the earliest days of space exploration.
Published by the University of New Mexico Press, Abandoned in Place: Preserving America’s Space History is a wonderful collaboration of prose and imagery that highlights the declining state of the sites were humanity lifted off for another world.
Miller’s work on this book got its start when a friend invited him out to see some of the Cape’s old launch sites. Once he saw Complex 19, the launch site NASA used for Gemini-Titan, he knew what he wanted to do. NASA public affairs was hesitant at first to provide Miller with the access that he required – until they were able to see a sampling of his work. Still, Miller had other obstacles, of a more logistical nature, that he confronted.
“There were some sites that I wanted to photograph that were still active […] somewhat serendipitously, every time I thought ‘well, I’ll go ahead and stop now’, they’d deactivate another pad and then I’d get access and go out and photograph it,” Miller told SpaceFlight Insider. “That was the only real challenge in getting the images I wanted.”
More than 40 years after the final mission to see footprints stamped into the lunar regolith, half of these buildings have either been re-purposed, are crumbling under the onslaught of time, or being torn down. Miller captures the fading legacy of these proud structures and systems with stunningly beautiful, if not sad images as well as words that highlight lessons that many feel need to be respected and remembered..
“To take another look at some of what was the foundation of how vehicles’ were designed and what goes into them today based upon what we learned 50 years ago,” said Chris Ferguson, the commander of STS-135, the final flight of the Space Shuttle era. “The biggest struggle is to understand what we know and what we have learned and to avoid making the same mistake that we made 50 years ago – because we don’t remember that we made that mistake.”
Abandoned in Place, while not a review of the heady days of Apollo, is an important part of the collective space exploration story, one that needed to be told. Whereas many books about the early days of human space flight focus on that period – where they look back at what was – Miller’s offering works to show us where the current status of the infrastructure and systems that allowed men to walk on the Moon (and they were all male at that time) is currently at. It is, perhaps, sad to see these artifacts in their current state and to note that many of them have not been preserved, or have been torn down or re-tasked for some other purpose – but that does not make Miller’s work any less important.
Miller is not alone in his work, having pulled in others within the aerospace community including Roger D. Launius, Pamela Melroy, Bob Thall, and several others to aid him in telling this story.
The book, which is packed with 113 color photos, retails for $45.00 and serves as a powerful reminder that what has past is best not forgotten. This is a sentiment that many who rode fire to orbit have stressed as a new age in space exploration begins. Abandoned in Place: Preserving America’s Space History is worth every penny as it serves as a somewhat cautionary tale about the risks of not preserving the past. Something Ferguson himself noted.
“In some cases, the people who were around back then, aren’t around anymore. Even with The Boeing Company (Ferguson is currently director of Crew and Mission Operations for Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program) with some 150,000 people, we find that sometimes we re-learn the same lessons over again because we don’t know what we ‘know’ and we build human spacecraft every 40 years, which is really what it is, we designed the shuttle in the 70s and here it is 40 years later – we’re forgetting some of the lessons. That’s one of the objectives – not to make the same mistakes that you made before,” Ferguson said during an interview regarding the new documentary The Last Man on the Moon.
For Miller, as important as it was to be able produce his book to have the access required to photograph these historic locations, the people who escorted him around these sites also played their part in the creation of Abandoned in Place: Preserving America’s Space History.
“I was very fortunate in that, in many cases, my escorts were people who worked at these facilities […] a lot of the volunteers for public affairs are retired NASA people,” Miller told SpaceFlight Insider. “So I’d be out with people who really knew the history of the sites we were at and they’d tell you stories, they’d tell you about the other people who worked there, they talk about interacting with the astronauts,” Miller said. “That made it a lot richer and I think it affected, on a subconscious level, how I photographed – it was really a bonus to be able to talk with those folks,” Miller said.
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.