In 1950, a small New Mexican town in a patch of nondescript desert decided to make itself famous. The host of Truth or Consequences, a popular radio gameshow at the time, offered to air his program from the first town that named itself after the show. And so, the town of Hot Springs, New Mexico, became the town of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.
More than 60 years later, Truth or Consequences has kept its distinctive name, and gained something similarly rare: the world's first commercial spaceport. Truth or Consequences is the closest town to Spaceport America, a facility that commercial spaceflight companies such as Virgin Galactic and SpaceX plan to use to fire paying passengers past our atmosphere.
Spaceport America officially opened in 2011. Twenty suborbital missions have already been launched from the spaceport, and commercial spaceflight companies SpaceX and Virgin Galactic have deals that allow them to use the desert facility for test flights and planned launches — but the center is not quite ready to be a bustling spaceport just yet.
Companies such as SpaceX are rapidly iterating on their spacecraft, but for now, the building that might soon let us regular citizens slip the surly bonds of Earth waits in the high desert as technology and funding catch up with our dreams. Photographer Dan Hendrickson captures both the spaceport, and the oddly named town it sits near, in his appropriately titled photo essay SP^CEPORT. Hendrickson says the differences between the two places offer a fascinating dichotomy "between an American town that can sometimes feel like another planet, and a spaceport that promises to take passengers into outer space."
- Hot Springs renamed itself Truth or Consequences in 1950 in a bid to boost tourism to the small town. Around 6,000 people live in the settlement today.
- Spaceport America is located about 20 miles southeast of the town. A visitor center for the spaceport is slated to be built nearby, but its budget was scaled back earlier this year.
- Photographer Dan Hendrickson says Truth or Consequences has held several referendums to see if the populace want to change the town's name back to Hot Springs. None have passed.
- Hendrickson says Truth or Consequences "self-identifies as an artistic community." The show it's named after ran for almost 40 years on American radio.
- The remote location means that the spaceport's builders have had to construct infrastructure where there was none. Hendrickson describes "ghostly" parking lots alone in the desert, not yet attached to spaceport buildings that will come later.
- Over the nearby mountains lies the White Sands missile test range. The spaceport benefits from the location: the US government has restrictions on airplanes from using the nearby airspace.
- This 10,000 foot runway will theoretically allow large carrier airplanes to take off, deposit space-faring craft near the Earth's atmosphere, and then land again.
- This is Spaceport America's Operations Center. The building, which Hendrickson notes is affectionately called "the sock," houses the facility's mission control center on its upper floor.
- The Federal Aviation Administration will regulate commercial spaceflight from the center, rather than NASA. The spaceport, along with Virgin Galactic, signed an agreement with the FAA earlier this year.
- Virgin Galactic has exclusive use of Spaceport America's main terminal, but other tenants include Armadillo Airspace, UP Aerospace, and Elon Musk's SpaceX.