New Mexico has long been the place for all things space, starting with early Native Americans who tracked the stars and annual solstices, progressing through rocket research, and now as home to the world’s first purpose-built spaceport. In fact, there are so many fascinating locations related to space, New Mexico has developed a Space Trail you can follow!
Freelance writer Loretta Hall has made space her special niche and has written hundreds of magazine articles, reference book chapters, and six nonfiction books about human space exploration, including Out of this World, New Mexico’s Contributions to Space Travel. On top of her written work, she presents research papers at space-related conferences, guest stars on podcasts, and is open to public speaking events.
Loretta shares, “I am intrigued and inspired by the experiences and accomplishments of people who have developed the capability to explore space and those who have experienced life outside of our home planet. The important history of space research in New Mexico has been a great source of information and inspiration for me.”
New Mexico Space Trail
The New Mexico Space Trail consists of 52 notable sites that help tell the story of the Land of Enchantment’s contribution to the fields of space and technology. The state’s space journey explores numerous museums, archaeological sites, laboratories, research facilities, guided tours, star parties, and even astronaut field training camps. You can see the trail online at nmspacetrail.org. Here are some of the places you’ll discover there and even some that aren’t on the trail.
New Mexico Museum of Space History
New Mexico Museum of Space History a division of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs and was dedicated in October 1976 as the International Space Hall of Fame. Its mission “is to inspire and educate, to promote and preserve, and to honor the pioneers of space exploration.” Patrons can visit the museum and planetarium and view a giant screen feature film. Guests can buy tickets for a single attraction, a combination of two, or opt for the whole trio at discounted rates.
New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science
The planetarium at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science in Albuquerque is the largest and most advanced full-dome theater in New Mexico. The museum has a rotating menu of educational and entertaining presentations with many containing a link to astronomy and space science.
Challenger Learning Center
Stephanie Hofacket is the associate director of the Teaching and Learning Center, K-12 Science, for Las Cruces Public Schools (LCPS). She describes the Challenger Learning Center as “An opportunity for students to become astronauts, scientists, and engineers as they solve real-world problems and share the thrill of discovery on missions through the solar system. Using space simulation and role-playing strategies, students bring their classroom studies to life and cultivate the skills needed for future success.”
The center offers math and science nights/days, exceptional camps, classroom presentations, and collaboration with school districts across New Mexico and Texas.
Perhaps best of all, every sixth-grade student in the LCPS district participates in a simulated mission field trip experience.
“Originally founded by the families of Challenger crew members, the learning centers serve as a living legacy to remember the brave, adventurous spirit of the crew and carry on their quest for knowledge,” shares Stephanie.
Museum of Nature and Science
One of the three permanent exhibits on display at the Museum of Nature and Science in Las Cruces is Light and Space. The museum is located in the heart of downtown and admission is free. It features many hands-on exhibits including one where you can build a model satellite. While you’re there, visit with desert-dwelling animals and see the Permian trackways.
Space Murals Museum
Often known as “The People’s Museum,” the Space Murals Museum and Gift Shop is located about 12 miles northeast of Las Cruces. After visitors take the NASA/ Baylor Canyon turnoff from Highway 70, an enormous water tank with a space-themed mural comes into view. This distinctive creation places a focus on the NASA Space Shuttle Challenger, which broke apart after launch in 1986, tragically killing the crew of seven. There is a dedication to the crew on a portion of the mural as well as a replica of the rocket that sits beside the tank. Explore the adjacent 6,000-square-foot museum complete with a model of a Mercury capsule, an astronaut-themed film, and donated artifacts as well as relics such as photographs, newspaper, and magazine articles all related to space. Although donations are accepted, both indoor and outdoor attractions are free.
Roswell UFO Festival
The year 2023 serves as the 76th anniversary of the Roswell Incident that initially swept the nation in 1947 when a press release reported a “flying disc” was recovered. Get ready to beam into Roswell for the UFO Festival held from June 30 to July 2 when the whole city transforms into a space themed celebration. Other must-stops while there are the International UFO Museum & Research Center, Spaceport Roswell, which is a virtual journey through space and time, and the Roswell UFO Spacewalk, a one-of a- kind blacklight art adventure followed by an opportunity to check out some local retro sci-fi art.
Following the scenic route on New Mexico State Road 6563 in Otero County, folks will come across Sunspot Solar Observatory. Here they can visit the Sunspot Astronomy and Visitor’s Center and see one of the largest active solar telescopes in the world. This hidden gem also has self-guided walking tours, a museum, and a gift shop.
The Very Large Array (VLA) is one of the world’s premier astronomical radio observatories. The Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array rests 50 miles west of Socorro, New Mexico, on an isolated flat stretch of desert landscape. The 27 massive radio dishes are 82 feet in diameter, with each antenna standing 94 feet tall, synchronized to function as one giant telescope.
Situated on 18,000 acres in the Jornada del Muerto desert basin and about 20 miles southeast of Truth or Consequences is the first purpose-built commercially licensed spaceport in the world. Spaceport America is a center for all things space and is complete with 6,000 square miles of restricted airspace, low population density, vertical launch complexes, an enormous 12,000-foot by 200-foot runway, and of course rockets.
White Sands Missile Range
Dubbed “The Birthplace of America’s Missile and Space Activity,” White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) is home to a museum containing approximately 100,000 archives with cataloged documents, photographs, and videos.
There is also a large outdoor Missile Park that showcases a variety of rockets, missiles, aircraft, optical equipment, and radars. In 1982 Space Shuttle Columbia landed at WSMR, and visitors today can also see a display of the small control tower used in its final approach. Space historian Loretta Hall concludes
her reflections on the draw of space exploration, “For millennia, humans have wondered what exists beyond the Earth.
Only in the last century have we begun to develop the capability to send machines and even people to explore that mysterious realm. Curiosity, a sense of adventure, and the conviction that space exploration is the next step in mankind’s quest for knowledge draw people’s interest to space.”
Story and photography by Desiree Bustamantes
Additional photos courtesy
Originally published in Neighbors magazine
Posted by Ruidoso.com