John Hilliard became enchanted with missiles as a child. Now, the retiree works meticulously to document every Air Force-supported launch in almost 100, 4-inch binders.
“When my family came to Satellite Beach in 1953, missiles were a new attraction, and I wanted to learn about them. My father was in the Air Force and brought me pictures of some early missiles.”
In high school, his aerospace summer jobs included RCA, Pan American and range development. He earned a master’s degree in aerospace management and served in the Air Force for decades, returning to the Space Coast in 1998.
His post-retirement volunteer work at Cape Canaveral provides up-close views of most launches.
“I volunteer with the (Space Force) 45th Space Wing’s Public Affairs department. I escort the media to the best viewing site,” said the 82-year-old Hilliard.
For the historic flight in late April, dozens of media vehicles followed him to watch the launch of a Falcon 9 rocket carrying four astronauts to the International Space Station.
Hilliard’s historical project began in earnest three years ago.
“People on my tours of the Air Force Space and Missile Museum and the Sand Space History Center asked specifics about the launches. I went to the Air Force and other sites, but nobody had pictures and information in one place.”
Hilliard has more than 3,000 photos documenting launches of all types, and he adds material daily. Each launch complex and facilities on Cape Canaveral, Kennedy Space Center and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California has binders outlining its history, construction, and the date and payload of each missile launched. He also has binders with launches from other range sites, aircrafts, ships and submarines, as well as volumes on how spacecraft are processed for launch at various facilities.
Heidi Hunt, 45th Space Wing Public Affairs Community Engagement Chief at Patrick Space Force Base and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, said: “I have seen firsthand John’s perfectly organized collection of detailed launch documentation. … His efforts are important because it preserves American and military history … for now and generations to come.”
Heather L. Scott, chief of Media Affairs, called Hilliard courteous, trustworthy and intelligent, with a passion for launch history he shares as a tour guide.
“We are all fortunate to have him as part of the 45th Space Wing team.”
Hilliard doesn’t plan to publish or sell his work. “Who knows how many hours and how much money I have invested,” he said. The plan is to donate the binders to the aerospace visitor center.
“We’d love to add his collection to our museum archive,” said Jamie Draper, director of the Sands Space Historical Center. He noted, “If I need a subject expert, John’s the one I go to. He has an encyclopedic grasp of the story of the Cape, and he wants to tell that story to anyone who will listen.