JF Ptak Science Books Post 1872
This of course is not a story of ancient spacecraft, but it is about Very Large Things being manipulated in space in the days of steam and pre-steam engineering. It is hard to escape the "rocketship" interpretation, as some of the images, sculpted slightly out of context and cleansed of any identifying text and viewed with a squint, look as though they might be large booster rockets being readied for flight. They are of course images of some great and famous pieces of engineering--moving massive obelisks, and moving them in the 19th century and before. And in the case of the Romans, and the original Egyptians, moving them way before our last millennium, moving 200- and 900-ton objects without benefit of very much at all.
Two of the great examples are the pair of obelisks that the Romans moved from Heliopolis to Alexandria, where they stood for another 2000 years. Over time there was only one standing, and that one wasn't doing so well by the end of the 19th century. The fallen obelsik was taken to London in 1877; the other, the standing obelisk, was given to the United States by the Khedive of Egypt two years later, in 1879. The man in charge of this second operation was Lt. Commander Henry H. Gorringe, U.S.N., who had the very tricky job of lowering the monolith, bracing it for transport by sea, fitting it out for a ship, and then transporting it to Central Park and raising it again. He was able to accomplish this feat with the "fragile" 100-ton object in just a year.
This next image is more classical and probably iconic, at least in the history of science world, and is found in the superb book by Domenico Fontana, Della Transportatione dell'Obelisco Vaticano (published in Rome in 1590 and again in 1604):
They really do have a certain modern taste for interplanetary access, at least to me. That aside, it is interesting to consider what this vastly heavy movement must've looked like to people long ago, when big machines with enormous powertrains (like this 1,200 ton capacity 300'-tall mobile crane)could be hauled into service to do their end in manipulating highly problematic and very heavy things in space. To think of moving these very heavy objects with steam (or less) was a daunting task, and to see these images showing the progression of movement of these things must have been enormosuly satisfying.