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Photo Essay

Inside the abandoned rocket bases dotted across the United States

Many once-important facilities now sit dormant, decommissioned years ago, now rusting in the sun.

abandoned-space Robert Miller Robert Miller

THE US SPACE program was one of the most impressive feats of human ingenuity in history — a series of events that captured the hearts and minds of everyone who witnessed them.

The amount of research, creativity, and manpower that went into the space program was staggering, even when we look back on it decades later.

But as space technology moves further away from governmental oversight and towards commercialization, what happens to the history and relics of our nation’s revered past in space exploration?

Many once-important facilities now sit dormant, decommissioned years ago, now rusting in the sun. Others have been demolished and lost forever.

They’ve almost all been forgotten, but photographer Roland Miller is trying to do something about that. For the past 25 years, Miller has traveled all across the US, photographing decommissioned NASA, Air Force, Army and commercial space launch and test sites.

These photographs will be released in a book titled “Abandoned in Place,” which features a diverse selection of Miller’s work, spanning more than two decades. You can see more of Miller’s work here or contribute to his Kickstarter campaign for the project.

“In the end, my main purpose is to preserve the remains of these historic sites in the only way possible, through photography,” Miller said.

Miller was mesmerized by space at an early age “like most kids growing up in the 1960s,” he says. It seemed magical to him at the time. “I can clearly remember the night Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon,” he says.

miller-was-mesmerized-by-space-at-an-early-age-like-most-kids-growing-up-in-the-1960s-he-says-it-seemed-magical-to-him-at-the-time-i-can-clearly-remember-the-night-neil-armstrong-and-buzz-aldrin-walk 1V2 Launch Site with Hermes A-1 Rocket, Launch Complex 33 Gantry, White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. Robert Miller Robert Miller

Miller began shooting this project in the early 1990s. He was teaching photography in Brevard County, Florida, about a 30 minute drive from Cape Canaveral. A friend of his was cleaning out an office building on the grounds and had discovered an old photo studio. He asked Miller to help him dispose of the old photo processing chemicals safely.

miller-began-shooting-this-project-in-the-early-1990s-he-was-teaching-photography-in-brevard-county-florida-about-a-30-minute-drive-from-cape-canaveral-a-friend-of-his-was-cleaning-out-an-office-buil Flooded Room Beneath Pad 19, Gemini Titan Complex 19, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Robert Miller Robert Miller

During that time, “I visited Launch Complex 19, the Gemini launch complex, and I knew immediately I wanted to photograph it,” Miller says.

during-that-time-i-visited-launch-complex-19-the-gemini-launch-complex-and-i-knew-immediately-i-wanted-to-photograph-it-miller-says Launch Ring, Launch Complex 34, (Apollo Saturn) Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Robert Miller Robert Miller

The chance encounter inspired Miller to photograph more of the base. As different programs and areas of the facility were decommissioned, Miller gained access and made more work.

the-chance-encounter-inspired-miller-to-photograph-more-of-the-base-as-different-programs-and-areas-of-the-facility-were-decommissioned-miller-gained-access-and-made-more-work Atlas Complex 13, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Robert Miller Robert Miller

It was another chance encounter that sparked Miller to expand the series. An early showing of the photographs in Huntsville, Alabama, gave him the opportunity to photograph at the Marshall Space Flight Center. “I quickly realized that I should expand the project and photograph at other space centers and test facilities,” he says.

it-was-another-chance-encounter-that-sparked-miller-to-expand-the-series-an-early-showing-of-the-photographs-in-huntsville-alabama-gave-him-the-opportunity-to-photograph-at-the-marshall-space-flight- Pressure Gauge Panel, Apollo Saturn V F1 Engine Test Stand, Boeing Facility, Santa Susana, California. Robert Miller Robert Miller

Since then, Miller has photographed across the US at NASA, Air Force, Army and commercial space launch and test sites, capturing these historical places in an effort to preserve them before they are gone for good. Miller estimates that 50% are already demolished now.

since-then-miller-has-photographed-across-the-us-at-nasa-air-force-army-and-commercial-space-launch-and-test-sites-capturing-these-historical-places-in-an-effort-to-preserve-them-before-they-are-gone Canyon Runoff, Apollo Saturn V F1 Engine Test Stand, Boeing Facility, Santa Susana, California. Robert Miller Robert Miller

Gaining access to these bases was not always easy. Sometimes it took years and several different plans of attack to finally be approved and escorted on the grounds. But, as he produced more work and showed the photographs to authorities, they became more supportive of the project.

gaining-access-to-these-bases-was-not-always-easy-sometimes-it-took-years-and-several-different-plans-of-attack-to-finally-be-approved-and-escorted-on-the-grounds-but-as-he-produced-more-work-and-sho Missile Fuel, Atlas Complex 13, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Robert Miller Robert Miller

Through the photographing of these places, Miller says he gained a better understanding of the huge amount of intelligence, creativity, and work that went in to the space program, especially during the Cold War. “I am humbled by the ingenuity and dedication of the individuals who designed, built, and operated these facilities,” he says.

through-the-photographing-of-these-places-miller-says-he-gained-a-better-understanding-of-the-huge-amount-of-intelligence-creativity-and-work-that-went-in-to-the-space-program-especially-during-the-c Wind Tunnel Test Chamber with Model, 7 X 10 Foot Wind Tunnel, NASA Langley Research Center, Virginia. Robert Miller Robert Miller

He says he was lucky enough to meet many of these smart, hard-working people who contributed to the work. “Whether custodians or rocket scientists, they all understood what beating the Russians to the moon meant to the United States,” he says.

he-says-he-was-lucky-enough-to-meet-many-of-these-smart-hard-working-people-who-contributed-to-the-work-whether-custodians-or-rocket-scientists-they-all-understood-what-beating-the-russians-to-the-mo Launch Control Room, Titan ICBM Missile Silo 395 Charlie, Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, 1995. Robert Miller Robert Miller

Miller continues: “I think landing a man on the Moon will stand as one of the greatest technological and exploration achievements in history. I think it says that we, as a nation, can do amazingly difficult things if we put our hearts, minds, and ingenuity to work.”

miller-continues-i-think-landing-a-man-on-the-moon-will-stand-as-one-of-the-greatest-technological-and-exploration-achievements-in-history-i-think-it-says-that-we-as-a-nation-can-do-amazingly-difficu Rocket Fuel Handler Suit, Titan ICBM Missile Silo 395 Charlie,Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. Robert Miller Robert Miller

Miller hopes viewers will ask questions about why the public lost interest in the space program after the initial few moon landings. He says he wishes “more could be done to preserve these sites, but the reality is that the funding does not exist.”

miller-hopes-viewers-will-ask-questions-about-why-the-public-lost-interest-in-the-space-program-after-the-initial-few-moon-landings-he-says-he-wishes-more-could-be-done-to-preserve-these-sites-but-th Rubber Room, Shelter Dome Seating, Apollo Saturn V Complex 39A, NASA Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Robert Miller Robert Miller

Miller believes the future of space exploration is bright, though. Talking shortly after a pilot died in a Virgin Galactic crash, he said he still sees commercialization as a natural progression.

miller-believes-the-future-of-space-exploration-is-bright-though-talking-shortly-after-a-pilot-died-in-a-virgin-galactic-crash-he-said-he-still-sees-commercialization-as-a-natural-progression Catacombs, Apollo Saturn V F1 Engine Test Stand, Edwards Air Force Base, California. Robert Miller Robert Miller

But, he says, spaceflight is risky business and no one in the industry takes their work lightly. He explains: “There is a small plaque on the launch pedestal at Launch Complex 34 commemorating the Apollo One spacecraft fire that occurred there in January of 1967. It reads, ‘Ad Astra Per Aspera -a rough road leads to the stars.’ Amen.”

but-he-says-spaceflight-is-risky-business-and-no-one-in-the-industry-takes-their-work-lightly-he-explains-there-is-a-small-plaque-on-the-launch-pedestal-at-launch-complex-34-commemorating-the-apollo- Apollo One Fire Commemorative Blockhouse Service, Apollo Saturn Complex 34,Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Robert Miller Robert Miller

- Christian Storm

Read: The new space race, and the startups looking to profit from it >

More: NASA says it is disappointed at launch explosion – but it was just a ‘mishap’ >

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