Spaceflight Insider

Two of a kind: Ward’s split effort a treat for space fans

NASA image of unmanned Skylab Saturn V rocket launch posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Two new books released last month highlight the nuts and bolts behind what was required to send crews into orbit – and beyond – from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo Credit: NASA

The history of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center is one with a lot of twists and turns, many of them have already been covered by the publisher – Springer/Praxis. The company has made a name for itself as a publisher that produces detailed books about space and science efforts. One of its authors, Jonathan Ward, recently penned a book that was designed to help provide a review of the development of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center under the agency’s Apollo Program. Ward’s book also took an interesting journey – one that split in two.

When Ward submitted his manuscript to Springer/Praxis, they told him it was a bit on the large side. Rather than see all that work trimmed down, he opted to split his work into two separate tomes: Rocket Ranch: The Nuts and Bolts of the Apollo Moon Program at Kennedy Space Center and Countdown to a Moon Launch: Preparing Apollo for its Historic Journey.

SpaceFlight Insider sat down with Ward during a recent telephone interview to find out a bit more about what it was like to pen these two books – and what got him interested in the subject in the first place.

SpaceFlight Insider: Hi Jonathan, thanks for taking the time to chat with SpaceFlight Insider.

Ward: “My pleasure!”

Rocket Ranch Countdown to a Moon Launch Springer Praxis Jonathan Ward Springer image posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Image Credit: Springer / Praxis

SpaceFlight Insider: Did these books come out at the same time?

Ward: “They did, they both came out last month (July).”

SpaceFlight Insider: “What was the thought process in producing these books? Also, are they part of a series or…?

Ward: “It’s kind of an interesting story, when I started working on this with a contract with Springer, it was a contract for one book. Originally, it was supposed to be about Apollo and Saturn processing at Kennedy Space Center. When writing that book, I was talking about the facilities and the processes that were going on there as well as the story about the people who were involved.

“I turned the manuscript in to Springer last September and one of their comments was that, at over 750 pages, it was likely to scare people off (laughs)! They asked me if I would consider turning that into two books and, so, over the winter time, I separated out the two books, with Rocket Ranch being the kind of history of the facilities at Kennedy Space Center supporting the Apollo Program. It’s kind of the ‘what’ and the ‘where’ of how Apollo and Saturn were processed at KSC.

“There’s a little bit of the history of launch complexes 34, 37, and 39, along with the Manned Spacecraft Operations Building and what life was like out there.

Countdown to a Moon Launch is the story of the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ of what went on to prepare an Apollo missions for flight. It provides a timeline for Apollo – from the time that the first stages arrived at the loading dock at Kennedy Space Center, through all of the assembly and testing that went on at the Manned Spacecraft Operation Building and the VAB (the Vertical Assembly Building, now called the Vehicle Assembly Building), at the launch pad, running all of the tests, and then, finally, launch.”

SpaceFlight Insider: What was your biggest challenge in writing these books, or I guess I should say, this book?

Apollo Saturn V Moon rocket leaves the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo Credit NASA posted on SpaceFlight Insider

A Saturn V rocket exits the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo Credit: NASA

Ward: “Part of it is that there’s a lot of material already out there and when I first started thinking about how I wanted to put these books together, I didn’t want this to be a duplication of the great books that have already been published, like Stages to Saturn or Moonport and, so, what I really wanted to do was to tell a story that hadn’t been told before and that was more of a ‘behind-the-scenes’ view of what it was like to work there.

“For me, the hardest part was getting to know some of the folks who worked there, at Kennedy. A lot of these engineers have led quiet lives, they’ve dedicated their lives to service, they don’t normally seek out the spotlight, and they’re a little distrustful of strangers. Once I had established credibility with a few of them, they started to make introductions to other people, and the whole thing just snowballed.

“It was just a matter of getting my foot in the door and working with a scope that was manageable and actually telling a very positive story from that.”

SpaceFlight Insider: So, what compelled you to write a story on the subject? It doesn’t sound like you had a built-in connection.

Ward: “Like most kids that grew up in the 60s, I had an avid interest in the space program, one of my earliest memories was watching Alan Shepard’s launch and watching the Echo satellite pass by overhead when I was a young kid.

“When I was a High School student, I worked at the National Air and Space Museum when I was in the Washington D.C. area during the summers. During one of those, I was there during the flight of Apollo 15, and I actually had the opportunity to drive a lunar rover before I ever drove a car!

“I worked for Boeing; I worked on the Space Station Freedom program for a little while as a contracts manager in the Washington D.C. Area.

“With the advent of eBay and the online auction sites, I started finding bits and pieces from the Launch Control Center several years ago; I guess it has been five or six years ago since I got my first control panel. I started doing some research on how these things were actually used and I produced a website. That caught the attention of one of the engineers who worked in one of the firing rooms back during Apollo. He and I got to talking and eventually I began talking with Bob Sieck, who I also met through correspondence online; those two gentleman kind of opened the door for me.”

SpaceFlight Insider: The books are both great resources and good, solid reads. Thanks for producing them and taking the time to talk with us today.

Ward: “Thanks so much, it was my pleasure!”

Both Rocket Ranch: The Nuts and Bolts of the Apollo Moon Program at Kennedy Space Center and Countdown to a Moon Launch: Preparing Apollo for its Historic Journey are available at or through Springer. Each retails for $39.99 and come recommended by SpaceFlight Insider. Ward has also made it possible for readers to obtain autographed copies of his books – you can find them here: Jonathan Ward


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,, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

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