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Talking Location With author David Gilman – Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral

21st January 2022

Talking Location With… author David Gilman – Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral.

David GilmanJohn F. Kennedy announced on May 25, 1961, that the United States “should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” The evidence of his ambition is a staggering display at the Space Centre named in his honour at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

I was about to embark on a new novel, Betrayal, the second book for the character Dan Raglan first seen in The Englishman. As usual, when I start writing I had no thought at all of the novel’s content or what the story was going to be about. It felt as distant as the moon. I had been invited to the Pentagon for a private tour, so for once I managed to unscramble my thoughts from being deeply embedded in my Historical Fiction series Master of War, that I was writing at the time and plan the trip. Raglan is a former French Foreign Legionnaire who is now a ‘freelance’ asset used by intelligence agencies and anyone else who reaches out for his help. Thankfully, friends living in north Florida suggested I visit. This gave me the idea that if Raglan flew directly into Washington D.C. he would be ‘flagged’ by Homeland Security, so he needed a less obvious approach. What if he went in as a tourist?

I took up my friends’ invitation and joined the thousands of other Brits desperate for some winter sun and fun to take my hero to Florida with his family members. A perfect smokescreen. The problem I faced was that I had no desire to go to Disney World. Not knowing Florida, other than trips to Miami, I did not know what else Florida could offer me or my character. I discovered three wonderful sites to visit, all within easy driving distance of each other. The Valiant Air Command Warbird Museum has aircraft from days of historic flight to modern day jet fighters; the SEAL Museum showing Special Forces equipment and the escape pod used by Captain Phillips (the real one not from the film of the same name); but the biggest thrill was to go to the Kennedy Space Center (US spelling) and I thought how perfect a visit it was for a family.

The impressive approach to the Space Center, shown above, leads into the Rocket Garden, a feast of monumental rocketry. Here stand the rockets that hurtled astronauts into space. Nine of the rockets are on display; including the Mercury Redstone rocket that took Alan Shepherd into the first sub orbital flight in 1961 and the Mercury Atlas that launched John Glen into the first orbital space flight in 1962. An age that we so easily forget when these brave pioneers bent themselves into a capsule that feels more cramped than a telephone box – and I’m not referring to the Tardis.

The space shuttle needed an altogether bigger beast to blast it into space. Standing next to the two solid rocket boosters and orange external tank that hurtled the space shuttle into space gives the observer a stiff neck.

David GilmanThey stand at 154 feet (47 metres) which is taller than the Statue of Liberty. The explosive power of these boosters and fuel tank is beyond comprehension even though we have seen launches so often on television.

The more I gazed upward at this monster, the more my imagination ran riot thinking of being strapped into a small cabin, like the flight deck of a civilian airliner and then someone ‘lighting the blue touch paper’.

Once I had seen these rockets and booster outside, it was time to step inside and see the actual craft that had been strapped to them.

The hangar is vast, the lighting dim, the spotlights play on the cavernous fuselage that opened to reveal and release its payload. The author standing in front of the Space Shuttle, Atlantis in all its glory.

There is a wealth of information and exhibitions on offer. From space suits to a 3D theatre experience on the lunar landing, to rockets, simulators, the astronauts’ hall of fame, and more, much more. I could have spent more than a day exploring.

My time there amidst the awe-inspiring science turned into a humbling experience as I thought of not only the incredible achievements of everyone that fulfilled the dream, but the unquestionable and immense courage of those who flew the explosive and terrifying power into space. Highly recommended for the whole family.

David Gilman

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  1. We also had a great day out at the Space Centre, although that was many years ago now and I understand that there have been major upgrades to the exhibits and facilities since then. It would be good to make a return trip, just to see how much it has changed.

    We were on Coco Beach one year when the space shuttle came into land. The noise as it broke the sound barrier was amazing, then it flew across the beach, just a few feet from where we were sat at a restaurant on the pier, flanked by an escort of two fighter aircraft. We couldn’t have wished for a closer view if we had paid for it!!

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane with you lovely post 🙂


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