Jim Eckles served in the Public Affairs office of White Sands Missile Range for thirty years. In this excerpt from his book Pocketful of Rockets: History and Stories Behind White Sands Missile Range, Eckles talked about the White Sands Test Facility, a nearby complex built by NASA's Johnson Space Center in 1963.

     To simulate the lack of an atmosphere in space, NASA built vacuum chambers.... The materials testing at the facility gets into the nitty-gritty of what goes into space. On one tour I took of the facility, we were told of an early example of why everything, and they mean everything, has to be tested before it is launched.
     The example involved something as mundane as the ink used to label all the switches and lights in a space capsule. In one instance, the manufacturer of the ink changed the formula, apparently in an attempt to make it more readable.
     When the newly printed labels were tested in a vacuum chamber, researchers found the ink gave off significant amounts of a gas that would be noxious to astronauts. It was not a fatal situation, but one that could cause membrane irritation for humans breathing in the fumes.
     As a result, NASA notified the manufacturer, who went back to another formula that proved more stable in a vacuum.

        Roger Wiens, a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, is the principal investigator for the ChemCam instrument on the Curiosity rover now exploring Mars. This excerpt is from the Prologue of his 2013 book Red Rover: Inside the Story of Robotic Space Exploration, from Genesis to the Mars Rover Curiosity:

        Curiosity rover, now on Mars, is by far the biggest---and most complex---vehicle ever sent to drive on another planet. It weighs nearly a ton---the size of a small SUV.... It has high-definition, true-color cameras; a laser-interrogation instrument called ChemCam; weather- and radiation-monnitoring devices; a neutron adsorption experiment to detect hydrogen; a hand lens; and an alpha particle x-ray spectometer....
        The mission's goal is one that has captured our imagination throughout history: to determine the habitability of the Red Planet, both whether it might have been hospitable enough for microbial life in the past, and whether it could possibly sustain human life in the future.
        We dream about life on Mars because it is the only planet so similar to Earth. Its days are twenty-four hours and forty minutes long; it has nearly half the gravity we have here; its temperatures are the closest of any planet to our own; and it has plenty of water as well as a thin atmosphere. In fact, the air on Mars has more carbon dioxide---the gas that plants breathe---than the Earth's atmosphere. No wonder the idea of terraforming, or cultivating an oxygen-bearing atmosphere, comes up so frequently, both in science fiction and among real scientists. If humans ever live on another planet, it will definitely be on Mars.

Here are some comments from Daniel Hicks, who has just been named CEO of Spaceport America. He has held various positions at White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) for the past 34 years.

"Since WSMR is not fully funded, and must obtain the majority of its funding from customers, I helped develop a positive 'can do' culture throughout the workforce that provides solutions and stays focused on the customer's needs. I believe my experience has resulted in expertise of launch operations, airspace, business development, and leadership that makes my well qualified to lead the Spaceport America team into the future."

"I have always believed in Spaceport America. It is a national treasure that is important to our states' economy and our nation's commercial space industry."

"I am very impressed with what Chris Anderson, her team, and the Spaceport Authority leadership have accomplished these past five years. The construction is complete; they have a great foundation of tenant activities with Virgin Galactic and others; and they've already had numerous successful launches. We are entering a very exciting phase of increased operations.... I'm looking forward to getting out in the New Mexico communities, sharing our great successes, and especially meeting with our current and future commercial space industry partners."

The following is excerpted from "Dogs Take Part in Missile Program," which appeared in the Amarillo,TX, Sunday News-Globe on April 14, 1963:

     Even in this modern age of electronics and nuclear science, the dog is still man's best friend, particularly at the White Sands Missile Tracing (sic) Range in New Mexico.
    Where ground units of trained searchers have failed and aircraft have been doomed (sic) ineffective, the dog has been successful in locating scattered parts of fallen missiles....
     L. Wilson Davis of Hyde, [Maryland], began a study on the program in February, 1960. After [the] study he concluded that the dogs could not perform effectively in a military relationship; they needed attention and companship because they worked not for money or glory but for the love of a master....
     Squalene, odorless to humans but easily detectable by dogs, is sprayed on the inside of the missiles before firing. The dogs, trained to disregard rabbits and other wildlife encountered in the search, retrieve missile parts by following the scent of squalene.
     Thus, one more device has been enlisted in the United States missile program --- the dog's nose.

On July 19, 2016, Spaceport America CEO Christine Anderson submitted her resignation, effective August 19. Here are statements from her and from Dr. Richard Holdridge, chair of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority, taken from her resignation letter and interviews conducted by reporters from the Las Cruces Sun-News, Albuquerque Business First, and the Associated Press.


"As you may recall, I committed to doing the job for one year, and it has now been over five."

"When I got here, it was a construction site. Taking it from that point to where we are today, I'm just really pleased I was here for that time. It's been extremely rewarding."

"Although I am resigning, I continue to believe in the commercial space industry."

"Spaceport America is continuing to grow and thrive and I have thoroughly enjoyed being part of it."

"We have a come a long way, constructing the first purpose-built FAA-licensed commercial spaceport, completing 26 vertical launches, broadening the business base on a path to become self-supporting, signing up new tenants and customers and providing many STEM opportunities for our students."

Holdridge: "She took a bunch of contracts that were barely in place, some of them had problems, and now we have a beautiful spaceport, fully operational. We're gathering more customers and we're attracting movies and advertising that we never thought of."

Anderson: "Hopefully the people of New Mexico will appreciate that we have something really unique here. It's a game-changer and it will bring jobs here."

The following is excerpted from "Space: The Final [Archaeological] Frontier" in Archaeology magazine, November/December 2004:

     In what may be the first instance of funded space archaeology research, a team led by Beth O'Leary, a New Mexico State University archaeologist, is studying legal ownership of artifacts and structures in space, and how one might go about documenting and preserving them. O'Leary's group argues that even though the United States cannot, by treaty, own the land on which the lunar module Eagle's descent stage rests, U.S. federal preservation laws and regulations nonetheless apply to the objects left there. They see the base as a natural candidate for the National Register of Historic places, as a National Historic Landmark, and, potentially, as the first extraterrestrial site on UNESCO's World Heritage List....
     As a first step in that direction and with funding from the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium, O'Leary's group of archaeologists, curators, and physicists have researched and documented an archaeological assemblage of dozens of artifacts and features at Tranquility Base alone. Using this data, they have drawn up a preliminary site plan, one that, thanks to the Moon's lack of atmosphere, will doubtless remain unchanged for centuries, provided looters leave the site untouched.

In 2010, both California and New Mexico listed Tranquility Base on their heritage registers (as a Historic Resource and as a Cultural Property, respectively). Those states' laws require only that listed sites have some association with the state. International treaties have so far kept it from being approved for broader registries.

This excerpt is from
Out of this World: New Mexico's Contributions to Space Travel:

        In August 1949, Clyde Tombaugh, his wife, and his mother-in-law shared a UFO sighting from Tombaugh's back yard in Las Cruces. About an hour before midnight, they were enjoying the view of a clear, star-filled sky. In his official statement reporting the incident, Tombaugh wrote, "suddenly I spied a geometrical group of faint bluish-green rectangles of light. . . . The group moved south-southeasterly, the individual rectangles became foreshortened, their space of formation smaller . . . and the intensity duller, fading from view at about 35 degrees above the horizon. Total time of visibility was about three seconds. I was too flabbergasted to count the number of rectangles of light, or to note some other features I wondered about later. There was no sound. I have done thousands of hours of night sky watching, but never saw a sight so strange as this."
        This was one of three times Tombaugh saw UFOs. About 1955, he wrote to a UFO researcher named Len Stringfield that "I have seen three objects within the past seven years which defied any explanation of known phenomena, such as Venus, atmospheric optics, meteors, or planes. I am a professional, highly skilled observing astronomer." Tombaugh, like many other observers in New Mexico, saw green fireballs streaking across the sky. "I have seen three green fireballs which were unusual in behavior from scores of normal green fireballs," he wrote to Stringfield. "I think that several reputable scientists are being unscientific in refusing to entertain the possibility of extraterrestrial origin and nature."

    This excerpt is from "Sunwatchers: A Survey of Chacoan Astronomical Sites" by Dennis Ward.

     Nearly one thousand years ago, what is now a remote and desolate area [Chaco Canyon in northwestern New Mexico] ... was the center of the Anasazi culture....
     The height of the Chacoan culture develop between 1055 and 1083 C.E.... This period was also an amazing time in terms of naked-eye astronomical events. The Crab Nebula Supernova appeared in July of 1054, blazing away in the daytime for over three weeks and was visible at night for over two years....
     At the western extreme of Chaco Canyon, at the top of the cliffs overlooking Chaco Canyon, there are ruins of an Anasazi "great house" known as Penasco Blanco.... [S]urveyors discovered a most unusual rock painting, or pictograph, just below the cliff edge near the ruins. A Chacoan artist used red paint on the underside of a low overhang to paint the crescent Moon and a star. On the vertical cliff face, the artist painted a Sun symbol....
     This pictograph is generally accepted as being a depiction of the 1054 supernova that created the Crab Nebula. Calculations of the Moon's orbit back to July 5th, 1054 have shown that the Moon was waning, just entering the first quarter. They also indicate that at dawn on that date in Chaco Canyon, the Moon was within 3 degrees of the supernova, and its crescent oriented as on the pictograph.... With the apparent width of the Moon being about half a degree, this pictograph comes basically as close as it possibly could to being a true scale rendition of the 1054 supernova seen in conjunction with the waning Moon.

 The following excerpt is from the article "From Sonic Wind to Stealth Fighter: The History of Holloman Air Force Base" in the Summer 2005 issue of the New Mexico Space Journal. Holloman is the home of the famous rocket-sled test track made famous by Dr. John Paul Stapp's human deceleration tests.

Today, at almost ten miles in length, the Holloman High-Speed Test Track serves as the world's longest, flattest, and fastest test track....

In addition to typical tests, numerous special projects have taken place on this unique track. For example, on April 25, 1958, as part of the Catcher's Mitt program, the track personnel conducted the first attempt to catch a fired howitzer projectile with a moving sled....

Although Stapp's work at the Aeromedical Field Laboratory was originally designed to test the effects of ejection, deceleration, and windblast from supersonic aircraft on the human body, the results indirectly helped the American auto industry. In discovering more Air Force personnel died in automobile wrecks than in aircraft crashes, Stapp initiated investigations into vehicle passenger restraint systems, leading to the development and use of seatbelts.
The following is excerpted from
Space Pioneers: In Their Own Words:

At the beginning of the Korean War, men were being drafted or recalled to active duty in the US military. Those with university degrees in engineering, mathematics, and physics or other sciences were routed to the First Ordnance Guided Missile Support Battalion. Some were assigned to White Sands Proving Ground to work on the extended V-2 missile program or other missile development programs. These young, highly educated servicemen advanced quickly through military ranks, sometimes to the consternation of more traditional Army personnel. In fact, a supervisor once told members of the group that he was no more impressed with them than he would be by a bunch of broomsticks. Thereafter, the group adopted the name "Broomstick Scientists," turning the slur into an emblem of honor. Darby Chiles was a Broomstick Scientist who reported for duty at White Sands after serving briefly at Fort Myer Army Post in Virginia.

        I received my orders to White Sands Proving Ground, and I said, "Where is that?" No one at Fort Myer knew where White Sands was in October 1950. They said, "Well, go across the street to the Pentagon Travel Office and ask them how to get there." I went to the Pentagon. I am serious. No one at the Pentagon Travel Office knew where White Sands was located. I said, "Well, where do I go?" He said, "Usually we try to send fellows in a group, two, three, or twenty together with meal tickets, that sort of thing. But we can't send you with anyone because we don't know where you are going. We'll send you alone. Here's an allowance for travel by personal car in lieu of railroad ticket and meals."
        They gave me so many days to get there, which allowed me several days at home en route. "When you get to Chicago, ask them, they'll know." So when I got to Chicago, nobody knew, except they knew where New Mexico was. "Get on this train to New Mexico and the conductor will know." Well, I got on the train and the conductor sadly shook his head and said, "No, son, I don't know where it is, but there's a new conductor that gets on just as the train enters New Mexico. He will know because he is right there in New Mexico." So he got on the train, and he says "White Sands Proving Ground. No son, but I know where White Sands is." And I said, "Fine, would you help me get off?" He said, "Yes, it is near a town, the stop is called Alamogordo, New Mexico."
        I got to Alamogordo about eleven or twelve o'clock at night. The train station was completely deserted. No one was there at that time of the night. But fortunately, after I got off, a few cars back, an Air Force captain got off the train. There were the two of us all alone in the Alamogordo station at midnight. I was a bit concerned because my paper said, "This date be at White Sands." Being a neophyte, I thought you were in the brig if you weren't there at that time. So I explained my dilemma to him during our conversation. He said, "Oh well, I'm going to call for a staff car. Come ride with me. We'll go over to Alamogordo Air Force Base and see if we can't work it out." Where else are you going to go in Alamogordo at midnight? So technically, I was in the Air Force for one day in Alamogordo.
The following is excerpted from the Foreword of Images of America: New Mexico Space Trail by Joseph T. Page II (Arcadia Publishing, 2013). The Foreword was written by Chris Orwoll, director of the New Mexico Museum of Space History.

     "Men and women from across the spectrum of space exploration and scientific research have been enchanted by New Mexico and their stories play out as you read about them or visit many of these historic sites. Dr. Robert Goddard, Werner von Braun, Colonel John Paul Stapp, and Neil Armstrong are just a few of the individual who left their mark on the state and blazed a trail to the stars. Exploring the [New Mexico] Space Trail can take you back in history to 100 BCE and the rock alignments at Wizard's Roost in the Sacramento Mountains that were used as a calendar, similar to the much larger Stonehenge in England. You can learn about ... White Sands Missile Range [which] is nicknamed the 'Birthplace of Space.' You can walk in the footsteps of the Apollo astronauts when you visit sites like the Zuni Salt Lake and the Rio Grande Gorge area where they learned to walk---and drive---on the moon. And, as you follow this trail, you will also look to the future at sites like Spaceport America where today's entrepreneurs are getting ready to use the world's first dedicated spaceport to launch spacecraft that will perform experimental research for NASA and take individual travelers on their own personal journeys to the stars."
The following is excerpted from the Prologue of The Holloman Story: Eyewitness Accounts of Space Age Research by George F. Meeter (University of New Mexico Press, 1967). Meeter arrived in Alamogordo in 1958.

     "On the sixteenth of July 1945 the first atomic bomb in history was exploded near Alamogordo, New Mexico. It was the first day of the Atomic Age. Just two years later a solitary missile streaked through the same gaudy blue skies from the Alamogordo Army Air Field. It was one of the first days of the Space Age....
     The little airfield grew into the sprawling complex of activities known as Holloman Air Force Base. It also grew as part of the Air Research and Development Command and then the Air Force Systems Command into one of the most unique applied research sites any nation could boast of....
     And it was one of the first curious facts to strike a newcomer; not only was this Atomic Age and Space Age a strange and fascinating new world but the people involved in it were aware of being involved in the greatest thrill of any age....
     [D]eath also lurked around the corner at Holloman. Though it was rare even to have an injury to be reported. An both cause and effect could be seen at once in all the precautions and safety rules, the air police cordons, roadblocks, fire trucks, ambulances, range safety officers, destruct systems to control the flights of missiles, blockhouses for the countdown crews, loudspeakers everywhere for the warning of the individual against X-times or T-times, all these and more as only too familiar adjuncts to every mission, every project, every activity going on at this 'place where the missiles were launched.'"

Photo Credits
Robert Goddard towing one of his rockets to the launch site near Roswell about 1931, courtesy of NASA.

WhiteKnightTwo carrying SpaceShipTwo at Spaceport America runway dedication flyover, photo by Loretta Hall.
Unless otherwise credited, all material on this site is © Loretta Hall 2010-2017.
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