It could be any abandoned basement, or subbasement, or back-lot reservoir of some forgotten rust-belt industrial zone. And it is–except that it also is the flooded room beneath Launch Complex 19 at Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The Space Program, remember? Or maybe you read about it in school. Gemini, Apollo, the big rockets timbering upward amid gigantic columns of smoke and fire. Humanity was going to the moon, to the stars, into the final frontier. . . .
OK, so that final frontier stuff came from Star Trek, but it was all the same, really. Science and science fiction mashed up together. Dreaming big and making it so real the whole world could watch in awe.
And now? The rockets are ancient history, the space shuttles are museum pieces, and space is being privitized by those few billionaires who have hobbies other than collecting politicians.
Fortunately, photographer Roland Miller has captured what remains. His book Abandoned in Place: Preserving America’s Space History is out this month. I’ve only seen the images at his web site and the New York Times exhibition, but they offer a beautiful study of the complex relationships between dreams, loss, and memory.
If you liked the space program, it will be a mixed blessing, as the glory days are long gone, while rust, peeling paint, and cracked concrete testify to nature’s relentless wear. Indeed, earth seems to be reasserting the slow, sure bonds of gravity and inertia that the powerful launches seemed to defy.
If you like ruins, however, you will feel right at home. Which is why I want to feature this work. I don’t miss the space program, but its ruins can help us think about what it means to tie progress to a dream of escape.
The visible abandonment of the rocket sites is a sad reminder of what it would have meant to abandon this planet. The falling back into nature is another example of how we have to find more sustainable ways to thrive within our own ecosystem. The deteriorating relics of a great technological achievement provide mute testimony to the fate of any civilization that thinks it can rise forever.
The great challenge of the 21st century is not traveling into space, but rather renewing our covenants with the earth and each other. If that challenge is not met, perhaps some day travelers from another galaxy will arrive here, only to find a silent planet dotted with ruins.
Photographs by Roland Miller.
Cross-posted at Reading the Pictures.