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The Final MissionPreserving NASA's Apollo Sites$

Lisa Westwood, Beth Laura O'Leary, and Milford Wayne Donaldson

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780813062464

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813062464.001.0001

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(p.xv) Preface

(p.xv) Preface

The Final Mission

Lisa Westwood

Beth Laura O’Leary

Milford Wayne Donaldson

University Press of Florida

Towering majestically 363 feet above the launch pad at Cape Canaveral, the Saturn V rocket stood taller than the Statue of Liberty and was more powerful than any launch vehicle previously built. Its purpose was simple: to generate enough thrust to break free from Earth’s gravitational pull and hurl humans to the Moon, a quarter of a million miles away. Those who witnessed the historic liftoff on July 16, 1969, stood in awe as exhaust plumes billowed out from underneath the rocket as the Apollo 11 crew—nestled in a capsule perched delicately atop the nosecone of the rocket—appeared to slowly rise into the heavens.

The success of that mission meant more than a win for the United States on the scorecard of the Cold War space race. Entire careers had been dedicated to the research and development of the now-archaic technology needed to reach that goal, careers that exuded a passion for experimentation such that the space race was more about the internal drive to achieve success and less about the politics of the Cold War. Facilities were constructed in remote corners of the globe, in an attempt to replicate a lunar environment we knew little about, having never before experienced it. Many sites helped develop and improve the Saturn V rocket engines that carried Apollo 11 and the first humans to the moon, developed the equipment that allowed humans to survive in an oxygen-free environment, trained the astronauts, and tested the launch escape system and reentry shields on the command module. The contributions of these sites are no less important than those of Cape Canaveral or Mission Control.

Over the past several decades, spaceflight historians and archaeologists have conscientiously sifted through the dusty archives of NASA and dozens of its contractors to reconstruct the material evidence and (p.xvi) documentation that led up to the historic first lunar landing at Tranquility Base on July 20, 1969. Thanks to their efforts, we now know how important the research and development carried out at the places such as Santa Susana Field Laboratory and White Sands Missile Range were to the success of the Apollo mission. We better understand why Colonel Joseph Kittinger’s high-altitude jump over the New Mexico desert was so critical to human survival in the vacuum of space. We can appreciate the careful thought that went into the selection of volcanic craters in remote locations for equipment prototype testing and astronaut training. But as archaeologists, historic preservationists, and historic architects, we also recognize that some aspects of history cannot be represented by the archival record alone—that the sites and structures themselves provide important information in history that is not, or cannot be, replicated elsewhere. In other words, the locations and the actual materials at these facilities and sites are just as important as the historic milestones and events that occurred therein.

The concept of in situ—the Latin phrase for “in position”—is widely recognized in the fields of archaeology and historic preservation. The term means that the original context provides clues to reconstituting the history of the site or structure. For example, an ancient Native American archaeological village site is important not just for its artifacts and abandoned pithouses but because the very location chosen for the village allowed residents access to natural resources or important trade routes to other contemporaneous sites that supported them in the first place. Accordingly, the importance of Sierra Blanca, Texas, is not just that it is associated with Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Jack Swigert; it only achieved that association because of the presence of a wide variety of volcanic rocks that allowed for targeted training for astronauts bound for the Moon in observing, describing, photographing, and collecting rock samples using specially designed hand tools and sample bags. These sites are important because of their characteristics and three-dimensional location on Earth and because of topography and geological resources. They include the physical matrix that surrounds them.

Now silent for decades, many facilities are abandoned structures. Countless research, astronaut training, and manufacturing facilities (p.xvii) and sites that dot the landscape lie unmarked, undocumented, or crumbling in ruins, failing to achieve status and recognition for their role in the historic Apollo missions. Yet without their contribution to aerospace history, the historic first human lunar landing at Tranquility Base by the Apollo 11 crew would never have occurred. Light must be shed upon these sites and less-known facilities that reflect that incredibly significant event in human history before the generation that created them passes on.

The idea for this book came about as a natural part of the evolution of the emerging field of space archaeology, initially pioneered by the authors over a decade ago. Space archaeology can be briefly defined as the systematic and scientific study of the nonrenewable material remains of human spaceflight history across time and space through the application of modern archaeological method and theory. The target consequences of such study are a better understanding of history and human behavior, the evolution of space technology, and the preservation and incorporation of that information into the existing body of knowledge. Preservation of the sites, structures, and facilities can be accommodated, where feasible, through creative historic preservation techniques such as adaptive reuse and public interpretation and detailed recording. However, considering preservation alternatives becomes possible only after these sites have been recognized, evaluated, and documented for their historic contributions and must then be balanced by other social and economic concerns, such as human health and safety and the feasibility of protecting those elements that make them important.

The importance of historic preservation of any kind of heritage must reflect the life-span of sites and properties as they transition over time from buildings, structures, features, and objects during their original use and reuse to archaeological sites after abandonment. This continuum from the built environment to the archaeological record is not often recognized as such independently by either the archaeological or the space history community, although both disciplines acknowledge that a property’s importance is best explained within the historic context of that property. For this reason, this book approaches the discussion of historic preservation of space heritage sites by touching briefly (p.xviii) on historic architecture, history, and archaeology. This book does not attempt to encompass the totality of any of these themes, nor does it dive deeply into the political and social complexities of the times. What the authors seek to accomplish with this book is to heighten the awareness of the vast network of sites and facilities (many of which are threatened) that relate in time and function to various aspects of the human movement into space and to appeal to the public, their caretakers, and the historic preservation community to consider preservation and adaptive reuse prior to demolition to the greatest extent feasible.

The origin of the authors’ passion for historic preservation of space heritage is multifaceted, blending academic and professional cultural resource management with backgrounds in archaeology, science, and engineering. Archaeologist Lisa Westwood’s interest in historic preservation of space heritage originated in discussions with her college students, as is also true of coauthor Beth Laura O’Leary. She and O’Leary cofounded the Apollo 11 Preservation Task Force, a group of preservation professionals who have been working for more than a decade toward designation of Tranquility Base on the moon as a World Heritage site.

With her coauthors, Lisa Westwood led the effort to list the Objects Associated with Tranquility Base on both the California Register of Historical Resources and the New Mexico State Register of Cultural Properties, which was achieved in 2010, and has worked with members of Congress and the international community to have the site designated a National Historic Landmark (NHL). Published in the field of space history, she currently serves as the director of cultural resources for an environmental consulting firm headquartered near Sacramento, California, and is a member of the faculty in anthropology at California State University–Chico and Butte College.

Beth Laura O’Leary, PhD, began her career in space archaeology and heritage with a question from a former graduate student, Ralph Gibson, who asked during her 1999 cultural resource management seminar, “Does federal historic preservation law apply to the archaeological sites on the Moon?” With a grant from NASA through the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium, which previously had never funded an anthropological investigation, she and her students began research (p.xix) on the assemblage of artifacts and features on the Moon and how they could be best preserved within the current legal framework for historic preservation. As a result of over a decade of research and chairing numerous international symposia on space heritage and several books, Dr. O’Leary was invited in 2011 to work with the NASA team on developing guidelines for preserving the scientific and historical value of NASA-owned artifacts on the Moon.

Milford Wayne Donaldson was inspired for a career in architecture and historic preservation while standing with thousands of Disneyland guests gathered in awe at the Tomorrowland Pavilion as Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the Moon on July 20, 1969. During his eight years as the California state historic preservation officer, Mr. Donaldson was privileged to visit many NASA, Department of Defense, and private contractor installations in an effort to preserve and interpret those less-known, but equally important, Apollo mission sites. He and his wife, Laurie, were hosted by NASA to witness the launch of STS-128, the last nighttime launch of Discovery, and greeted the astronauts the evening before. Along the way he had the opportunity to work with astronaut Wally Schirra as architect for the San Diego Air and Space Museum.

As NASA’s program was being cut by Congress, there was an all-out effort to hold the federal government accountable for preserving those sites that best represent the extraordinary moments of our space heritage, including the Space Shuttle program. Appointed by President Obama as the chairman of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP), Mr. Donaldson continues to work to preserve those important moments of the Apollo program as NASA and other federal agencies begin to dispose of their surplus properties. Working with O’Leary and Westwood has been inspirational to him from the moment they stepped into his office, where they noticed a model of the lunar lander on his desk, to propose nominating the 106 objects left at Tranquility Base to the California Register of Historical Resources.

This book draws from the collective experience and expertise of the authors and their colleagues by synthesizing the concepts of historic preservation and space heritage. Toward that end, this book begins with an overarching introduction to and definition of human culture (p.xx) and space heritage. Chapter 1 places the sites and facilities discussed in this book into a historic context for the Apollo program, set in the Cold War era. Chapter 2 highlights several important sites associated with the development of jet propulsion technology, and chapter 3 features key rocket testing facilities in the United States. Sites and facilities related to research and development of equipment and processes designed to protect the lives and safety of astronauts and the public are highlighted in chapter 4, and chapter 5 covers sites that were associated with astronaut training. Chapter 6 presents an overview of the relevant laws, regulations, guidelines, and international treaties that form the historic preservation framework within which preservation of space heritage occurs. Comparable mechanisms for preservation are discussed in chapter 7, and a discussion of threats to space heritage sites is provided in chapter 8. Chapter 9 provides examples of success stories that demonstrate why and how preservation can work. Chapter 10 concludes with a series of recommendations for countering threats in the present day, as well as those that are looming on the horizon.

Collectively, space heritage sites, facilities, and artifacts reflect an incredibly significant period in American and human history, and like spokes on a wheel, each was important to achieving the goal of landing a man on the Moon and bringing him safely home by the end of the 1960s. The public and the historical record remember Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins but have long since forgotten the vanishing sites that reflect the historic “culture of Apollo.”