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

    Video Democrats Clinton, Kaine Offer 'Very Different Vision' Than Trump

    In a jab at Trump, Clinton says her team wants to 'build bridges, not walls'; Obama Hails Kaine's record; Trump calls Kaine a 'job-killer'

    Turkey Wants Pakistan to Close Down institutions, Businesses Linked to Gulen

    Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's commercial network of around two dozen institutions operating in Pakistan for over two decades

    AU Passport A Work in Progress

    Who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out

    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 State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora