Wednesday’s Book Review: “Rocket Ranch”

Rocket RanchRocket Ranch. The Nuts and Bolts of the Apollo Moon Program at Kennedy Space Center. By Jonathan H. Ward. Chichester, UK: Springer Praxis, 2015.

Jonathan B Ward’s Rocket Ranch is an enjoyable overview of the Kennedy Space Center during the 1960s and a once-over-lightly account of the Moon landing program. It will be of interest to a broad range of space aficionados, but few beyond that community will find it useful.

Those already knowledgeable about the Apollo program may well find the detailed discussion of facilities quite satisfying. There are fine explanations of processes at the Vertical Assembly Building (VAB), the pad operations, and the KSC firing room. Contained here is the best account I have seen of the computing efforts at KSC and the operational aspects of the Apollo program. There is also a lengthy chapter on the Apollo 1 fire that many will find of interest.

Ward relies on more than seventy interviews that he personally conducted, and this is a boon for those fully-engaged in tracking this subject. He also uses many technical documents, most of which are not very well identified and thereby the research cannot be duplicated. While many of the stories in Rocket Ranch are well known and may be found in many different sources, there is not a strong referencing aspect in this book and the manner in which they might be obtained is a bit of a mystery.

There is a bit of a lack of depth in Ward’s account, as he remains at the level of everyday technical activities. That may be fine for many readers, but the reality for every technical decision, practice, of system is that there are countless non-technical decisions that led to it. Those are ultimately more important and more interesting than the mundanity of everyday activities. For those who are interested in Apollo era technology infrastructure at the Kennedy Space Center, this is the book for you. As promised by the author, Rocket Ranch concentrates on the nuts and bolts of the Apollo program.

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One Response to Wednesday’s Book Review: “Rocket Ranch”

  1. David Shomper, ex-Gemini & Apollo engineer says:

    I was an engineer at Kennedy for Apollos 4 – 13 (in the VEHICLE Assembly Building) and I found this book to be quite fascinating (and I even learned a lot of stuff). Ward does an excellent job of explaining the process in layman’s terms. Lots of good photos, too.


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