Jan 292016


Outer space begins a few hundred kilometres perpendicular to the Earth’s surface. There have been various gateways to this infinity, the most celebrated of which is Cape Canaveral, located near the centre of Florida’s Atlantic coastline. Nestled here within the Kennedy Space Centre (KSC) are two launch pads that have been responsible for supporting countless launches.

In the excursus of Collage City entitled Nostalgia-producing instruments, Colin Rowe and Fred Koetter include two photographs of the KSC launch complex structures. The authors pose the question, ‘Why should we be obliged to prefer a nostalgia for the future to that for the past?’[1] The launch-centered buildings invite the nostalgia of a golden age of space travel when these structures represented a gateway to space and the future.

Launch pads 39A and 39B stand out on the low Florida coastline, piercing the blue horizon as they sit atop a futuristic hill-fort. From a distance they could be mistaken as the skeletal remains of Hans Hollein’s aircraft carrier’s run aground inland, perhaps in the process of being broken down as often happens to ships amongst the low-tides of Chittagong’s ship-breaking yards in Bangladesh. The structure is so impenetrably dense that any human scaled element is lost amongst it; analogous to the insignificance of man set against the inky black infinity of space. But these dense expressions of structure are not being dismantled nor are they lying dormant. After more than fifty years of service they continue to operate as a fundamental component to the launch facility, being modified and repurposed to accept continually advancing launch systems technology.

The two launch pads are linked to the cavernous VAB via pathways topped with a layer of spark-resistant river stone. This gauntlet is run at a deliberately unhurried pace by the crawler transporter; a moveable element of the launch pads that as well as providing a plinth with which to stand the launch system atop, is responsible for the delivery of the rocket to the launch pad proper. Decades of use has seen rockets scorch the fire trench that is used to control and direct the blast over water. Bricks lining the fire trench walls are often shot kilometres away from the launch pad due to the incredible forces at play. These bricks bear an indelible patina, the mark of a sublime event whose forces you can conjure as your hands run over them.

Man no longer frequents the Moon, though has left some evidence; Skylab has since burnt up on re-entry; the International Space Station will certainly suffer a similar fate. Space it seems is no suitable place for a landmark to celebrate mankind’s ultimate endeavour (although Lebbeus Woods’ Einstein’s Tomb would tend to make a case for its viability). All that remains and will remain in the wake of such historically significant events are two hulking launch pads that continue to endure a solemn, dutiful service here on Earth.


List of Illustrations

image a – Launch pad 39A (2012), the author’s image.

image b – Launch pad 39A (2012), the author’s image.

[1] Colin Rowe and Fred Koetter, Collage City (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1978), 173.

image a image b

 January 29, 2016

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.