Text by Sarah Warwick Photography⁄Roland Miller
It all started with a chance encounter. Roland Miller was teaching photography at a community college near Cape Canaveral, Florida, in 1988 when he got the call asking him to help dismantle an old photo lab. While there, he stumbled across Launch Complex 19, which had been used in all of the USA’s manned Gemini missions.
As a huge space fan, the sight was exciting – “like science fiction come to life” – but also concerning. Twenty years after the pad’s last use, the degrading impact of the harsh Florida sun and the salty coastal air were taking their toll.
“I found it amazing that things that had been so critical in world history were basically now collapsing in upon themselves,” Miller says. “I knew immediately I wanted to photograph it.”
Thirty years on, his book Abandoned in Place has just been published, featuring his shots of defunct launch pads and space centres from across the US.
Miller sees a strange beauty in all the peeling paint and rusting metal. “It reminds me of the temporal nature of life and that we’re all ageing,” he says. But while there is a certain pathos to the pictures, as many of them are the last ever taken of these structures – at least half of which have now been taken down – there’s also a sense of wonder. His book underlines the fact that much of the technology that was vital to the Space Race was designed in the 1940s and ’50s, and has a lot less computing power than a modern smartphone.
“Not only did we go to the moon but we went there with the technological equivalent of stone knives and bearskins,” he says. “I think 500 years from now people are going to look back and say it was crazy to do that with that technology. And it was.”
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