National Geographic : 1959 Oct
NATIONALGEOGRAPHICPHOTOGRAPHERTHOMASNEBBIA A Three-man Team From Air Force and Industry Runs the Missile Range To date the Nation has invested $500,000,000 in building and equipping the tracking system, which employs 18,000 workers. Pan American World Airways operates it under Air Force contract, and RCA Service Company records signals from the racing rockets. Maj. Gen. Donald N. Yates, the range's commander, accepts a Thor model from his principal aides, Kenneth M. McLaren, RCA vice president (center), and Richard S. Mitchell, Pan American vice president. Relief map shows Cape Canaveral. rocket-riding monkeys, and other experiments, they also pursue the goals of peace. Like Caesar's Gaul, the Atlantic Missile Range can be divided into three parts: a 15,000-acre testing and firing reservation carved from Cape Canaveral's scrubby brush; an administrative headquarters at crowded Patrick Air Force Base, 18 miles south of the launching sites; and the down-range stations on drowsy isles. Working together, one and inseparable, they comprise the largest and most important installation of its kind in the Free World. $500,000,000 Shooting Gallery Maj. Gen. Donald N. Yates of the Air Force, the range's commander, often refers to his charge as "a $500,000,000 shooting gal lery." This figure represents capital invest ment only; operating costs for fiscal year 1959 reached a whopping $130,000,000. But a shooting gallery that stretches be tween continents requires unusual services, many of them expensive. The range operates 426 its own regularly scheduled, interisland airline and flies specially instrumented aircraft on missile-tracking missions. The combined fleet totals 41 planes. General Yates also com mands a navy-11 ocean-going tracking ves sels, plus several smaller ships used in missile recovery and supply missions (page 467). Traveling teachers, a chaplain, even an is land-hopping barber, serve the various sta tions. The range has its own excellent medical corps and its own motion-picture service. Wisely, I believe, it spends $100,000 a year on film rentals. Each station gives nightly shows in an outdoor theater, an essential morale builder at the lonely outposts. Imagine, for a moment, a desolate expanse of sand and snarled brush that juts out into the Atlantic like a bent elbow. Alligators bask in its swamps, snakes infest its under growth, birds of many species wing its air lanes, and hordes of voracious mosquitoes drone in its thickets. Of human habitation, however, there are but few signs-a venerable lighthouse and several forlorn old houses.