7 fantastic experiences at Virgin Galactic Spaceport America
Imagine sitting in the cockpit of a space vehicle and taking off from a two-mile-long runway in the middle of a New Mexico desert. Imagine the dizzying and thrilling effect of weightlessness in space.
Nothing is left to the imagination to Spaceport America in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Follow me and find out how you can experience launch, weightlessness and other fantastic activities in America’s first spaceport.
Final Frontier Tours hosted my husband and I for our Spaceport America tour. However, all opinions are mine. Our professional experience in the space industry and human space flight programs has enriched our Spaceport America experience.
First: A Note on Virgin Galactic and Astronaut Sturckow
May 22, 2021, Galactic Virgo successfully completed the first manned space flight at the launch of the VSS Unit mother ship, VMS Eve, in flight. VSS Unit reached Mach 3, reached space at an altitude of 55.45 miles, then glided toward Earth on the same runway as the launch. CJ Sturckow, captain, and Dave Mackay, controlled the VSS Unit, and Kelly Latimer and Michael Masucci flew the VMS Eve. Sturckow is the first person to fly into space from three different states.
Sir Richard Branson is the visionary behind Virgin Galactic. He and his team are responsible for this historic achievement, for helping to create the first commercial spaceport and claiming the first manned space flight from the spaceport. Branson intends to make space travel as accessible as air travel is today.
When I learned of the recent successful flight, I remembered Neil Armstrong’s statement when he landed on the moon. “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind. This new stage of flight is a milestone for Virgin Galactic and manned space flight in New Mexico.
1. How to visit Spaceport America and important things to know
The world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport, Spaceport America, is an FAA licensed launch complex and active test facility. It is not open to the public and the launches are not open to the public. Private tours are organized online at Spaceport America website in advance via Final Frontier Tours.
When we visited the Southwestern United States, our tour with Final Frontier Tours started at the Visit Las Cruces Visitor Center. We boarded a 10 passenger van for the 57 mile ride to Spaceport America facilities and enjoyed the storytelling about the area.
For example, did you know that New Mexico is the number one producer of pecans in the United States? The Hatch Valley, famous for the unique terroir that contributes flavor and texture to much sought after Hatch peppers, is just 35 miles from Spaceport America.
The best part of our tour was that there were only 10 participants which allowed for a lot of interaction with our guide. We didn’t feel rushed and gathered, as often happens in a tour group. This tour was an authentic experience that you can’t get anywhere else. Spaceport America is a true commercial space launch facility while providing education with lots of hands-on and fun experiences. Curtis, our guide, was always on hand to photograph us in the best spots for the photoshoots.
School programs are an essential experience at Spaceport America. They promote education with an emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). They want people to get excited about space and develop the skills necessary for careers in space operations.
Pro tips: Tours begin at the Spaceport America Visitor Center in downtown Truth or Consequences, at the Visit Las Cruces office in Las Cruces, or directly at the Spaceport America facilities. Be sure to confirm the starting location of your tour. Also be aware that Final Frontier Tours may cancel tours of less than seven passengers. Spaceport America may also cancel them due to facility launch activities. Tours are sold out several weeks in advance, so plan your preferred date in advance.
2. The gateway to space
Our slow approach at the Space Operations Center (SOC) appeared to be an experiment from a fictional space movie. The vast open space enveloped a strange building in the shape of a triple disc. The suspense was almost palpable as the scene unfolded in front of us.
From space, the installation looks like an alien landing panel. Deserted roads with names like Asteroid Beltway are not marked on the maps.
3. At the beginning
The entrance to Spaceport America is marked by a giant sculpture named Genesis, created by the artist Otto Rigan. The 11,000-pound steel sculpture, encrusted with glass and mirrored elements, was designed to represent the stars in the summer sky above the spaceport.
4. Walk this way
The lack of elements on the exterior walls of Astronaut Walk sparked curiosity about what was to come. Almost invisible doors provided access to the facility.
5. Gateway gallery
The Gateway Gallery is filled with light, space, art and the GShock Trainer. I wanted to run to every exhibit booth and study wall painting as a child.
the Travel to the top mural is a timeline from prehistoric times to the present day and beyond. Short interpretative descriptions of the history and culture of the area are depicted in the mural and can be found on four different touch screens in the exhibit.
6. GShock Trainer and the good stuff
The elaborate centerpiece of the Gateway Gallery is the Multi-Axis Trainer (MAT), also known as the GShock Centrifugal Trainer (G for Gravity). The trainer is a yaw, roll and pitch gimbal platform that simulates the extreme forces astronauts face during launch, maneuver, and reentry. Astronauts experience disorientation in space on reentry when in a spin.
Several hardy souls on our tour showed they got what it takes and took a ride on the MAT. I was not one of them.
7. Space Operations Center (SOC)
The mission control room is the heart of space flight operations. Flight controllers and other ground personnel, the problem-solving team, manage flights from pre-take-off to landing.
It’s easy to imagine the preparations for launch day when we hit the desk, computers, dials, and microphone. Sitting in the ruling seat was awesome.
My husband has supported numerous shuttle missions to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and Houston. Notice the loving look on her face for this fantastic experience at Spaceport America.
8. Fighting ground fires
In depth demonstrations by the chief firefighter delivered a close-up and a unique experience to his audience. From extremely loud alarms on oxygen tanks to actual and deadweight dummies, we have gained a deep understanding of the dangers and responsibilities during a fire emergency.
Delighted to climb into the cabin of the giant fire truck, I gazed in wonder at the interior. Like a spaceship, the dashboard had a dizzying array of gauges, levers, and signals.
Another feature of this fantastic firefighter tour was donning the heavy and bulky firefighter’s uniform – boots, jacket and helmet.
9. Huge meeting room
The massive room where the assembly of the spacecraft takes place was empty when we visited. A large observation window in the cavernous space helped us visualize the magnitude and size of the flight vehicle.
10. Cruising altitude and runway launch simulation
As the tour van limited our cruising altitude to Mother Earth, access to almost every corner of Spaceport America made us realize how remote the facility is.
To end our fantastic Spaceport America experiences, Curtis accelerated the engine of the pickup truck, approached the threshold, aligned the vehicle on the center line of the 12,000 by 200 foot wide runway, and released the brake. I thought for sure we were going to take off because that line quickly disappeared under the vehicle at high speed. Alas, we remained attached to the earth as our imaginations soared into space.
11. Sassy Virgo Galactic Plane
The Virgin Galactic open-air exhibit is a testament to the mission and vision of the future.
It’s easy to imagine yourself a space traveler at Spaceport America when you reach for the stars in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.
New Mexico is at the forefront of innovation. The state benefits from a robust economy and takes advantage of the scientific potential of the region.
Spaceport America spans 18,000 acres adjacent to the US Army’s White Sands missile range in southern New Mexico, including 6,000 square miles of no-fly airspace. That is to say from the surface to the unlimited.
There are many choices of accommodation in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Well-known hotel chains, boutique hotels and rental homes offer good options. Make Las Cruces your base as a focal point between Truth or Consequences, Hatch and White Sands National Park. When in the area, plan a trip to White Sands National Park. It’s like nowhere else on Earth. The gypsum sand in the wave-shaped dunes has consumed 275 square miles of desert. The park’s ranger programs include evening sunset walks and guided full moon hikes offered several times throughout the year. It is only 52 miles from Las Cruces and a fantastic experience.