The first American in space, Alan Shepard, launched from this complex on May 5, 1961, and marked the beginning our country’s human presence in space. On Memorial Day, May 26, 2014, I visited Launch Complex 5 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. I walked out on the pad, and inside the blockhouse. I was allowed to push the firing command button, which ignited Al Shepard’s Redstone Rocket engine, creating the column of thrust that he rode into the sky, and the history books.
When I create visual media, such as photography, I attempt to bring the audience, not only into the scene, but also into the emotions that I experienced while photographing. These photographs struggle to express what I felt while visiting Launch Complex 5. To share these emotions, I have to explain a few concepts that govern the majority of the way I think. I’ll talk about nature, music, spaceflight and how they relate to each other.
In my life, one of the most important things is nature. And to me, science and nature come hand in hand. When I’m in a national park, surrounded by wild beauty, I get an overwhelming sense of curiosity, and a sense of how grandiose the world, and the universe is. I feel small, but not in a bad way. I feel the same way when I look up at the stars. This is clearly why spaceflight is so important to me. Space exploration is simply a way to celebrate nature’s beauty. All of the future manned adventures in space connect with this place, Launch Complex 5.
The other most important thing in my life is music. Nature and music evoke the same emotions in me. This can be best described by a quote from Shelton Johnson, US Park Service Ranger, as he interviewed for the Ken Burns film, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea”. Johnson said, “When I think of a grove of giant sequoia, I think if a cathedral or a church, where you are not necessarily worshiping the name of something, but the presence of something else. There is no need for someone to remind you at there is something in this world larger than you are, because you can see it. And you look up in a storm and cannot see the rim of the valley, all you can see are clouds gathered there at the rim of the valley, and Yosemite falls seems to flow out of the clouds itself, as if out of nowhere. It is a gatherings place of water, all the waters of the sky flowing into that one spot, which makes it a gathering of life, and a gathering of spirit as well, and all of those thing are flowing through Yosemite, and so I think that, ‘what better place is there that has such a confluence of so many things flowing together’ and the result is music.”
Spaceflight, nature and music all mean different things to different people. Humans tend to pull what they want or need to feel from these forces. I think some of the most moving songs have somewhat cryptic lyrics. An example of this would be the song, “Cape Canaveral” by Conor Oberst. Oberst wrote, “Saw the migrants smoke in the old orange grove, and the red rocket blaze over Cape Canaveral. You’ve been a father to me, in 1960’s speak, in the comatose joy that we’re on TV, while the mountain’s side was shining, wild colors of my destiny”. When it’s not clear what the songwriter was trying to say, it may be easier to adapt the lyrics into something personal and meaningful to you. This is one of the beauties of spaceflight. It fuels the hopes and dreams of so many people, in so many different ways.
All of these things go through my head when I’m standing in a place like Launch Complex 5. I believe that these emotions that fuel our innate human curiosity, and cause us to explore the universe around us. It’s this drive that has pushed every scientist and naturalist in history.
Lastly, I’ll share a quote from John Muir, a naturalist and wilderness preservationist, whose life was dedicated to the great adventure of exploring and celebrating the natural world around him, just as the lives of so many people involved in spaceflight. "This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on seas and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls."