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 Positive Messaging Helps Revamp Ethiopia's Image

In country once connected with war, poverty, famine, headlines now focus on fast-growing economy, diplomatic reputation More

Russian Activist Thinks Kremlin Ordered Nemtsov's Death

Alexei Navalny says comments of Russian liberals who think government wasn't involved are 'nonsense.' More

Video Land Disputes Rise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers 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.
NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planeti
X
George Putic
March 04, 2015 8:51 PM
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video African Americans Recall 1960's Fight For Voting Rights

U.S. President Barack Obama and thousands of people will gather in the small southern U.S. city of Selma, Alabama, Saturday, March 7th to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic voting rights march that became known as “Bloody Sunday." VOA’s Chris Simkins traveled to Alabama and introduces us to some of the foot soldiers of the voting rights struggles of the 1960’s.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More