News / Science & Technology

Moment of Truth Nears for Sleepy US Town on Cusp of Space Flight

Spaceport America's Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space Building is seen at the end of the road to the main runway, near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, May 1, 2014.
Spaceport America's Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space Building is seen at the end of the road to the main runway, near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, May 1, 2014.
Reuters
— After passing the sign reading "Danger Falling Aliens," New Mexico artist Roy Lohr and dog Yoda lead visitors to the "Spaceport" he has built in his backyard out of wine bottles and cement. It's no wonder the lanky 69-year-old embraces the real Spaceport America in his town's backyard, the world's first space base built expressly for commercial launches and soon-to-be site of the first space flights with Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic.

"It is hard for locals to realize the impact it is going to have, but it is slow coming and this is a tiny little town," said Lohr. But he has no doubt "things are happening."

The inaugural flight of the six-passenger SpaceShipTwo should take place this year, carrying Branson from the 12,000-foot (3.6-km) runway to suborbital space about 65 miles (100 km) from Earth.

"As always, safety will ultimately call the shots, but right now, I'm planning to go to space in 2014!" Branson wrote in an e-mail last week. The first of some 700 "astronauts," who have already paid $250,000 for the two-hour-plus flight and some minutes of weightlessness, should follow a month later.

After 10 years of conception and construction at the state-run, taxpayer-funded, $212 million Spaceport, the people of Truth or Consequences, population 6,500, are sensing a shift in confidence as the countdown nears.

While the economic windfall is difficult to estimate for the town that famously renamed itself after a radio quiz show in 1950, most everyone in these parts agrees the Spaceport should inject new energy into the somewhat tattered and totally quirky T or C, as it is known in local parlance.

"There might have been some doubt about how much T or C would be ready for all of
The Rocket Inn is seen in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, May 1, 2014.The Rocket Inn is seen in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, May 1, 2014.
x
The Rocket Inn is seen in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, May 1, 2014.
The Rocket Inn is seen in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, May 1, 2014.
this future endeavor," said Cydney Wilkes, who bought and renovated a motel with wife Val a few years ago and called it, aptly, Rocket Inn.

"I think that in the last few months that shifted ... that maybe we can pull up and measure up," she added, noting that the Virgin team is helping the hospitality industry spiffy up.

There's a new Walmart north of town, next to where a Spaceport visitors center will go up. It is not yet known where Virgin will lodge the astronauts for three days of training. It could choose the bigger town of Las Cruces to the south.

But T or C's townspeople are particularly proud that Ted Turner, the media mogul turned conservationist and local rancher, bought the historic Sierra Grande Lodge last year, citing myriad reasons, including Spaceport, his friend Branson and the famous waters of the dusty town once called Hot Springs.

'Democratization of Space'

The 30-mile (48 km) drive out to Spaceport America over the sparsely populated high desert plain is a journey through time.

Paleo-Indians roamed here some 12,000 years ago, the Spanish built the El Camino Real passage here, a century-old dam across the Rio Grande brought settlement and White Sands Missile Range made it a gigantic area of restricted air space.

While Spaceport brings a futuristic vision to the old West, it is meant to blend in. The
A firetruck is parked outside Spaceport Operations Center at Spaceport America near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, May 1, 2014.A firetruck is parked outside Spaceport Operations Center at Spaceport America near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, May 1, 2014.
x
A firetruck is parked outside Spaceport Operations Center at Spaceport America near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, May 1, 2014.
A firetruck is parked outside Spaceport Operations Center at Spaceport America near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, May 1, 2014.
signature building, designed by the firm of British architect Sir Norman Foster, melds into the distant mountains like a giant portobello mushroom.

"It feels much more real, but it also feels like I am looking at something that is a set for a science-fiction movie," said visitor Doug Sporn while on the Follow The Sun tour to Spaceport after hearing Branson would go to space soon.

Branson isn't the only famous entrepreneur here. He is joined by Elon Musk's SpaceX, founded in 2002 with the ultimate goal of sending people to inhabit other planets. SpaceX, which already has craft supplying the International Space Station, has chosen Spaceport to test the Falcon 9 reusable rocket, meaning that it will launch vertically and then land intact.

"It really is the democratization of space," said Spaceport Executive Director Christine Anderson, "that you and I and our children and grandchildren can think about going to space, about going to Mars."

She estimates there will be 200,000 visitors per year to Spaceport "when all our customers are flying."

Going to Space with Yoda

Those kinds of numbers are feeding the first shoots of space business, from Jeff Dukatt's psychedelic T-shirts sporting a cowboy-on-rocket motif to Follow The Sun's new Spaceplace tour base where freeze-dried ice cream is for sale and there is extra space for start-ups to operate.

"We don't know where the opportunities are going to be, we just know a facility like this will line us up," said Follow The Sun's Mark Bleth, echoing the kind of wonder around town about where this all could lead. Then there is that lingering question of whether T or C can preserve the quirky character and Western ruggedness that has attracted free spirits and artists for decades.

"My guess is that the real culture and heritage of southern New Mexico is pretty firmly ingrained," said Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides. "I would doubt that just because we start doing our spaceflights the intrinsic character changes."

Lohr, the artist, relishes the "nice mini-culture embedded in a trailer town," and said Spaceport shouldn't detract from its charms, but rather attract more interest in them.

If he gets a free ticket, Lohr is game to go to space, but only "if Yoda would come with me."

You May Like

Uganda Court Annuls Anti-Gay Law

Court says law was passed in parliament without enough members present for a full quorum More

Multimedia Thailand Makes Efforts to Improve Conditions for Migrant Laborers

In Thailand, its not uncommon for parents to bring their children to work; one company, in-collaboration with other organizations, address safety concerns More

In Indonesia, Jihad Video Raises Concern

Video calls on Indonesians to join Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborersi
X
Steve Herman
August 01, 2014 6:22 PM
Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborers

Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video Public Raises its Voice on Power Plant Pollution

In the United States, proposed rules to cut pollution from the nation’s 600 coal-fired power plants are generating a heated debate. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, charged with writing and implementing the plan, has already received 300,000 written comments. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, another 1,600 people are lining up this week at EPA headquarters and at satellite offices around the country to give their testimony in person.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video China Investigates Powerful Former Security Chief

The public in China is welcoming the Communist Party's decision to investigate one of the country's once most powerful politicians, former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang. Analysts say the move by President Xi Jinping is not only an effort to win more support for the party, but an essential step to furthering much needed economic reforms and removing those who would stand in the way of change. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.

AppleAndroid