Photographing The Sad Last Days Of Florida’s Space Coast

Photographer David Ryle documented the strange place and time that was Cape Canaveral leading up to the space shuttle’s final launch.

For many, the space shuttle Atlantis’s program-ending final liftoff last summer was a sad moment. The “we can do anything,” man-on-the-moon mentality seemed dead, the golden age of space exploration budget-cut into oblivion.


Photographer David Ryle made it to Cape Canaveral a bit earlier, in 2009, to capture Atlantis’s final servicing of the Hubble Space Telescope. And what he found became his collection Space Coast, a melancholic portrait of a culture’s last days, like a once-epic party in which the last few guests sipped warm beers into dawn, refusing to go home just yet.

“I approach each project slightly differently, but with this shoot it became more about the area surrounding the NASA center, and the buildup to the flight, rather than spaceflight itself,” Ryle tells Co.Design. “It was important that I got a picture of the shuttle in flight, but what interests me is how we, as humans, relate to our surroundings.”

Save for a few populated shots, the collection of spartan scenes verges on post-apocalyptic. But the people aren’t trudging through life. They more serve as fixtures akin to palm trees or astronaut posters. They’re less individuals than part of an amalgamation of a beached space culture.

“The tone, and/or aesthetic is fairly clean, empty but still slightly positive,” Ryle says. “I’m aware that this was one of the last shuttle flights from the area and so after it had gone I’m sure the area suffered through losing tourism and business, so I like the idea that they are bright but melancholic.”

Ryle describes his approach as observational rather than documentary, conveying a wry sense of humor without mocking his subject. And I think that’s a pretty fair self-assessment. NASA’s always carried an element of wry self-awareness–freeze-dried ice cream is inherently funny, after all, much like a Florida snow globe filled with flamingos.

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[Hat tip: Defringe]

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.