Go For Launch – An Illustrated History of Cape Canaveral

Spaceports rule! These are one end of our tenuous link with outer space. At one time literary sculptors crafted imaginary sites to blast people up, up and away. Now, hard cold engineering makes them real. A handful of working spaceports dot the Earth’s surface. Cape Canaveral is one with the longest history and Joel Powell, with Art LeBrun, show off its illustrious heritage in their book, ‘Go For Launch – An Illustrated History of Cape Canaveral’. In it is a glowing tribute to a little tract of land in Florida that was transfigured from swamp land into launch site.

Spaceports have all the functions of seaports and airports. They allow specialized craft to temporarily suffer an alien environment so as to transfer people and /or cargo. Once this finishes, the craft jumps away, swiftly returning into its natural habitat; water, air or outer space. As the crafts must be self reliant for most of their journey, the spaceport enables maintenance, repair and even construction. Cape Canaveral, along with Baikonur, are probably the best known to the public. Both have regular launches of rockets, with and without people. Cape Canaveral also receives the returning space shuttle, hence it alone fulfills the requirements of a port that can cycle crafts to and from space. Yet, this capability didn’t come quickly or simply, as spaceports and spaceflight have shown over the years.

Powell’s book on Cape Canaveral takes the reader along through the inauguration of spaceflight and the establishment of this spaceport. And as the title clearly reflects, he does this through illustrations; photographs to be specific. He starts early. There’s a photograph of a rocket at a pad beside a painter’s scaffold, dated 1950. As the first part of the book unfolds, more photographs show buildings, signposts, and especially, the launch pads. Through a combination of vantage points on the ground and in the air, the reader can watch as painters’ scaffolding grows and strengthens. Eventually photographs show today’s assembly buildings standing prouds as some of the largest structures on the planet. All told, 47 launch facilities graced the point of the cape at one time or another and most are pictured within.

Though the first portion of this book illustrates the Cape Canaveral spaceport, the remainder focuses on the spacecrafts. It’s a little bit confusing, but essentially, the photographs are chronological in nature. The first part shows many of the developmental and early missiles. Primarily they are shown being readied on a launch pad or moments after launch. The second part of the book then somewhat repeats this chronological order, but focuses more on established vehicles. Therein are a few choice photographs, such as one from a long-range airborne camera that captures Apollo 7 clearing the assembly building. However, the remainder are the standard fare of missiles just before or immediately after launch. The final part of the book contains only colour photographs. These photographs are of recent launch vehicles; Titan IVs, Delta’s and Atlas’s. Perhaps surprisingly, no photographs show the shuttle, whether being assembled, at launch or during a return. The book concludes with a reproduction of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Drive-Thru Tour.

Given the quantity of photographs of space vehicles and the quite fewer number of photographs of the Cape, this book’s title is a bit misleading. There is much less on the design and development of a space port and much more on the craft which use the port. True, the photographs of rockets at launch are all spectacular, but so are photographs of sunsets. After viewing a number, they all begin to look the same. The index and table of contents give ready reference to launch vehicles and many of the launch facilities, hence this book would be a good reference. Also, people who just thoroughly enjoy viewing and finding small differences between a series of launch craft or a change in pad design would thoroughly enjoy this book. As well, lots of special subjects get show cased, including; current photographs of launch complexes overrun by vegetation, the recovery of Liberty Bell 7 and a Polaris being launched by a submarine just off the coastline. These add some depth to the contents, but the pictures primarily focus on the launch vehicles and secondarily on the launch complex.

Cape Canaveral may not be the perfect location for a spaceport, but it has done admirable service to the space industry. From being swamp land, it’s become a well developed facility for launching and retrieving spacecraft. Joel W. Power with Art LeBrun provide wonderful depictions of this in their book Go For Launch – An Illustrated History of Cape Canaveral. As shown, this spaceport is just one more critical step in our journey ‘ad astra’.

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Review by Mark Mortimer