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 Twists and Turns Aplenty in US Presidential Race

    Even as Americans pause for this week’s Memorial Day holiday, much attention is focused on the presidential contest

    Iran Orders Social Media Sites to Store Data Inside Country

    New requirements are expected to affect the instant messaging app Telegram, which has more than 20 million users inside Iran

    The Struggle With Painkillers: Treating Pain Without Feeding Addiction

    'Wonder drug' pain medications have turned out to be major problem: not only do they run high risk of addicting the user, but they can actually make patients' chronic pain worse, US CDC says

    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.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora