Including · the unearthly tools of the moon-race · a neon jungle called The Platinum Strip · real Indians, fake cowboys and thousands of moon-struck tourists

IAN SCLANDERS February 24 1962


Including · the unearthly tools of the moon-race · a neon jungle called The Platinum Strip · real Indians, fake cowboys and thousands of moon-struck tourists

IAN SCLANDERS February 24 1962


Including · the unearthly tools of the moon-race · a neon jungle called The Platinum Strip · real Indians, fake cowboys and thousands of moon-struck tourists



IN THOUSANDS OF NEWSPAPERS published in scores of countries in dozens of languages, almost as many dispatches have been datelined Cape Canaveral in the last few years as have been datelined Washington, Moscow, London, Paris, Rome or Berlin. Except in Canada, Canaveral has been mentioned in print far more than Ottawa. From now on it will be on the front page oftener than in the past, for as the greatest launching base this side of Russia it’s to be one of the two starting points in the most incredible and expensive race in history. The other starting point is in the Soviet Union, probably in Kazakhstan, east of the Aral Sea, and the race, of course, is the race to the moon, preparations for which are jiy>t getting under way in real earnest.

While Russia hasn’t announced its plans, it is reported to hope that its cosmonauts will circle the moon without landing by 1967, the fiftieth anniversary of the red revolution, and will be able to make a lunar landCONTINUED OVERLEAF


ing not long alter that. The United States hopes to put its astronauts on the moon ahead of this, and will pour from twenty to forty billion dollars into the attempt.

This enormous sum will be shared by projects scattered from Atlantic to Pacific. But the gigantic rockets the money buys, advanced Saturns and monsters already, named Novas although they . are still mere bundles of blueprints, will blast off only from Cape Canaveral.

More than 1,000 missiles, small and large, have screeched skyward from 15,000 acres on that Florida sandspit since 1950, And people who live nearby, most ol them orange growers, are currently being paid $60.000.000 bv Washington to pack up. vacate, and deed the government an additional 72.000 acres.

This land is needed for six moonrocket launching complexes that 4,300 workers will construct at a cost of $700,000,000 over the next three or four years, and also for a buffer zone to isolate the mighty explosive force and the ear-shattering din of the coming moon shots, w'hich will have a thrust of 12,000,000 or more pounds each. This compares with a thrust of 1.500,000 pounds generated by the eightenginedi Saturn, the most powerful rocket tried out in 1961. and a thrust of about 7.500.000 pounds

planned for the advanced Saturn.

With the U. S. seemingly gaining in the strange hard-to-believe competition to reach the moon first, visitors by the tens of thousands are descending on the area to take a look around. In the late fall ‘I was one of the visitors. Fd been reading news stories from Canaveral for a decade and seen countless pictures of rockets rising from their pads, but the impression I had of the cape itself was fuzzy and featureless. I wanted to find out what it s like, why it became the West’s key rocket base, what rocket expenditures have done anil will do to it and the nearby towns, and what keeps thousands there busy.

Cape Canaveral, to begin with, is prairie flat. It bulges into the Atlantic from a narrow peninsula that separates the broad Banana River from the ocean. Its name is derived from the Spanish word for canebrake and Indians are supposed to have raiseil sugar cane there once. In 1950. the year the first spacemen moved in, it had a white lighthouse, a handful of crumbling dwellings, swamps in which alligators lurked, and thickets of brush infested by snakes. There were deer in the brush, and rabbits and armadillos; clouds of birds whirled over it.

Now' the entire scene has changed. The dwellings have been erased, the swamps drained, the ground leveled by bulldozers anil fenced by a high metal fence with uni-

formed guards at the gates. Inside the fence, stabhing the sky line like derricks in an oil field, are skeletal steel rocket gantries or service towers. The tallest of them, on the .Saturn launching complex, is as tall as a tw'enty-story building. A $5,000,000 structure, it w'eighs 2,800 tons and is mounted on forty-eight wheels encased in lead so they won't spark. It can be jockeyed around on tracks by one operator. The gantries stand by pads — concrete disks. There are 4,400 cubic yards of concrete in a Saturn disk.

10,000 MILES OF OCEAN ...

Several of the gantries hold rockets or. as they are called at Canaveral, “vehicles.” And there are other weird symbols of man’s defiance of gravity: plate-shaped telemetry antennas that record the most minute details of a rocket’s flight; missile hangars the size of skating rinks; cranes that look capable of lifting aircraft carriers; explosion-proof bunkers for liquid and solid fuel: igloo-shaped "blockhouses” that have concrete walls more than twelve feet thick and shelter the crews and their astounding assortment of electronic computers, radar screens, television screens, dials, knobs, periscopes, telescopes and radios; smaller concrete domes that protect equipment like the ROTI — recording optical traffic instrument — which can photograph a baseball at eight miles

or a nose cone at 200 miles; radar aerials so sensitive they can tell at eighty-eight miles whether a ball struck out of a park is a homerun or a foul; an animal compound where monkeys destined to travel into space are taught to send signals back to the earth.

Why was Canaveral, w hich hardly anybody had ever heard of. chosen to be the most important launching site in the western world? For one thing, it was a remote and lonely wilderness, a thinly populated wasteland. But the decisive factor w'as that the cape faces out on what experts consider to be the best natural missile testing range on our planet — a 5,000-mile expanse of ocean that stretches from Canaveral to Ascension Island, between South America and Africa.

This mammoth shooting gallery could, if necessary, be extended another 5.000 miles past the southern tip of Africa to the Indian Ocean, fn all that distance a rocket would pass over no major land mass, and immense reaches of open sea would minimize accident risks. Yet every inch of its journey could be tracked from strategically situated islands.

A missile fired from Canaveral is followed by stations on Grand Bahama Island. Eleuthera, San Salvador, Mayaguana. Grand Turk. Hispaniola. Puerto Rico. Antigua. St. Lucia, Fernando de Noronha and Ascension Island. The tracking stations are operated by Pan-Amcri-

can World Airways, but each is under the command of a U. S. Air Force officer, and RCA records the signals from the rockets. PanAmerican has 5,000 employees on the range, including those at Canaveral. and RCA has 3,000, There's no trouble filling the posts on the islands, although job applicants are warned that the life there can be terribly dull and monotonous. Most applicants, in spite of the warning, are convinced that tropical islands are glamorous, and they know that island duty means a substantial monthly bonus over their basic pay; forty percent at Fernando de Noronha and Ascension, which are farthest from the U. S.. and thirty percent elsewhere. In addition, they have free room and board, free medical care, and are eligible for income tax refunds if they stay out of the U. S. for 510 days in eighteen months. They even, on occasion, have a call from their own parson. Rev. Joe Keiper, a stocky, bouncy, cheerful Methodist who wears shorts and sneakers. He covers 125,000 miles a year hopping from island to island, and stays at each a week at a time.

The Atlantic missile range has its own island-hopping barber, too. and its own scheduled interisland airline. It has a fleet of three or four dozen planes, among them a dozen ocean-going tracking vessels, some smaller cone-recovery vessels and supply planes. But, to get back

to the mainland at Canaveral —

What have rocket expenditures done to the towns of Brevard County, Florida? These towms, within commuting distance of Canaveral, have grown at rocket speed. Indeed, the last census showed Brevard County to be the fastest grow ing county in the U. S. Cocoa Beach, the community nearest Canaveral, ten years ago was a drab village with three or four hundred residents. Today, with six thousand residents in the area, thirty motels and twenty restaurants, eight of them with floor shows, it boasts that it is the “Platinum Strip.” Its motels, several w'ith electric signs with a rocket motif, have names like Starlite. Vanguard, Astrocraft, Polaris, Satellite and Sea Missile, and the piano thumper at the Satellite’s Silhouette Lounge, w'ho doubles as a comedian, bills himself as the Astronut.

When you check into a motel at Cocoa Beach, no matter which one it is, the desk clerk invariably promises: “As long as you’re staying here you’ll know it if a missile is being fired.” The motel grapevine is uncannily accurate about what is to be launched and precisely when. You learn, though,?that it w'ould be difficult to miss on this kind of a forecast. If you hear German being spoken, Wernher von Braun and his aides have come for a Saturn shoot; if Convair engineers and technicians turn up, the betting will

be on an Atlas shoot. And so forth.

And before a rocket launching there are unmistakable signs of activity: air force crash boats shoo away shrimp boats and other craft, a red ball is raised on a mast, a radar screen starts rotating, and. in the predawn hours, floodlights illuminate the launching pad.


Casual tourists aren't admitted to Canaveral but Cocoa Beach, when there's a shoot, is practically ringside. especially if you have binoculars. Spectators park their cars by the w-aterfront, bumper to bumper, when word of a launching spreads. If T (for test) time is in the early morning, some hardy souls spend the whole night in their autos rather than risk missing the show.

Cocoa is across the Banana River. Merritt Island and the Indian River from Cocoa Beach, and its tourist folders once concentrated on its claim that it ships more gift packages of fruit than any other Florida community. But the gift , package trade never took its population beyond the 5,000-mark, and now it is pressing 13,000. Rockets did it. so the emphasis in the tourist folders now is on rockets; the chamber of commerce dug into its pockets to finance a $1.000 sign that announces. “This is Cocoa, Gateway to the Launching Site of the Satellite." and flashes a neon satellite around a painted globe. Cocoa has

a Cape Canaveral museum with pictures and relics of space shots and. at the chamber of commerce office, you can register for a moon flight and qualify for a lunar colonization card — a gag that seems to tickle the customers.

Cocoa's growth has multiplied real estate prices by three in less than a decade and there have been similar increases in other places near Canaveral The manned moon landing program is expected to drive prices higher — a prospect not exactly ignored by real estate developers. The promoters of Canaveral Groves, a residential subdivision five miles from Cocoa, advertise: “South to Canaveral. Gold rush is on.”

Titusville, eighteen miles from Cocoa, is cashing in on the fact that since satellites arc not launched every day tourists have time for other wonders. Titusville’s Wonderland provides such attractions as an elephant that water skis, a chimpanzee TV star, a genuine Seminole Indian chief, and an hourly gun fight on an "authentic model’’ of Dodge City’s main street.

But, between rockets, a lot of visitors would rather kill time killing fish. Mayo Hill, manager of Cocoa's chamber of commerce, assured me that the rockets — although some of the faulty ones have rained into the area's rivers and coastal waters in hissing, steaming fragments



continued from pape 17

Before every launching, each of a quarter-million pieces must be checked

—have not frightened away the sea trout, bull whiting, croakers, angelfish, sea bream, pompano, bluefish, sheepshead. tarpon, channel bass or drum.

I gathered, from the number of them I saw on the docks, that the 22.000 workers at Canaveral and at Patrick Air Base, the administrative headquarters of the test range, have a moment occasionally to relax and bait a hook. But there are spells when they work — and w'ork hard — for seventy or eighty hours a week. Salaried employees who do this just get their regular salaries

— no compensation for overtime. But they do it willingly because — and you feel their enthusiasm w-hen you talk w ith them

— they believe they are participants in the most thrilling chapter in human history: the exploration of the universe.

The tradesmen who are paid by the hour, with time-and-a-half and double-time for overtime, frequently earn more than their bosses. I was told of skilled men whose pay. under unusual circumstances, hit $800 a week.

What do they do to keep so busy? This puzzled me because, w-hen you see a countdown on TV or in the movies, it’s a tensecond affair: “ten . . . nine . . . eight . . . seven . . . six . . . five . . . four . . . three . . . two . . . bang.”

It isn’t quite that easy at Canaveral or quite that brief. The launching of a small missile involves an expenditure of hundreds of thousands of dollars and the launching of a big one may mean a total outlay of $20.000,000. (A moon shot will cost many times that.)

A space vehicle is probably the most complicated of all man’s inventions. In its electronics system alone, there are 30.000 to 40.000 bits and pieced and the bits and pieces in the rest of it run up to quarter of a million. Before launching, each item has to be checked w-ith unbelievable care, and some must be as clean as a surgeon’s scalpel. While the flight of an Atlas is over in half an hour. 2.500 men spend months preparing and checking it and compiling and interpreting the data the flight yields.

The smallest flawcan result in a scheduled launching being “scrubbed.”

Here, for what they are w-orth. arc a fewof the notes I scribbled when 1 was decorated with an identification badge the size of a postcard and escorted around C anaveral :

“When a rocket is to be fired, its gantry is detached and moved 500 feet from the pad. but metal arms hold the missile in place until its thrust is powerful enough to break their grip. It rises slowly for the first second or two. The heat of its thrust is deflected from the pad by a metal plate cooled by fast-flowing water . . .

“An electronic computer digests the data the rocket sends back, and spews out ten reports a second on the rocket’s speed and position. Within seconds of the take-off. the spot at which the rocket will dive into the sea can be predicted . . .

“A machine, not a man. pushes the launching button. That’s because the machine can do it w-ith thousandth-of-a-sccond accuracy — and thousandths of seconds are vital w-hen you’re dealing with speeds up to 25,000 miles an hour . . .

“Human judgment enters the drama when the safety officer has to make a snap decision about whether the missile is deviating from course enough to be a menace. If he decides it is, he explodes it in mid-air with a radio device. As a rule, the wreckage showers down into the Atlantic on the Canaveral shore, where it is recovered by grapplers and divers, dub-

bed ‘undertakers’ by the spacemen, and analyzed to determine what went wrong . . . When wreckage falls on the cape itself, it starts brush fires that the firemen of the base have to fight. They don’t mind fighting the flames. But they do mind the singed and angry rattlers the heat drives from the brush. They cope with the rattlers anyway. and a couple of years ago had to

lasso and haul off a ten-foot alligator that was lying in front of a blockhouse door . ..

"The danger of being hit by rocket wreckage at Canaveral is so slight that you’re ten times as likely to be struck by lightning . . .

“Cameras set around a firing pad and operated by remote control take more than 1.000 pictures a second . . .

“To burn fuel in the airless reaches of space, a rocket must carry its own oxygen. The temperature of this, in liquid form, is 297 degrees belowzero. That’s why a rocket, prior to its launching, sends out clouds of white vapor and is glazed by ice ...”

There are other notes in my brown notebook. One says. “Launching at 6 a.m. tomorrow.” It was pitch dark when I tumbled out of bed and hurried to Canaveral hoping to see a sight I’d never forget — a rocket in flight. But the bird, as they say at Canaveral, was scrubbed,