Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

10-19 Check Out the WSMR Museum

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- White Sands Missile Range's Museum and Missile Park is a sight worth seeing.
Located between Las Cruces and Alamogordo, just inside the WSMR gate, the museum traces the origin of America's missile and space activity. Outside, the Missile Park displays more than 50 missiles and rockets that have been tested at White Sands.
We stopped there during the X Prize activities in the area because WSMR has been a helpful part of attracting private space ventures to southern New Mexico.
WSMR's history of developing the U.S. military's space program fits naturally into the beginnings of the commercial spacecraft industry, which is what the X Prize competitions are designed to encourage.
The missile range had its beginnings in 1945, at the end of World War II. Many German V-2 rockets, captured by U.S. troops advancing on Berlin, were shipped back to the United States.
After a painstaking survey of the entire nation, the War Department decided that land occupied by the Alamogordo Bombing Range would be the best location to test rockets.
The decision to locate in southern New Mexico was made for basically the same reasons that prompted Charles Lindbergh to recommend the Roswell area for Dr. Robert Goddard's rocketry experiments. By the time the X Prize folks got around to selecting a location for their competitions, southern New Mexico was a no-brainer.
Along with the V-2 rockets came about 100 top German scientists who had opted to surrender to the Americans rather than be captured by the Russians. Their leader was Dr. Wernher von Braun.
In mid-August 1945, 300 freight cars loaded with V-2 components, captured in Germany, arrived in New Mexico. The Army hired every flatbed truck in Dona Ana County and transported the material to the Proving Grounds in 20 days.
From 1946 to 1952, sixty-seven V-2s were launched from White Sands. On April 16, 1946, the first V-2 was fired from Launch Complex 33, which now is a historic landmark, along with Trinity Site, where the first atom bomb was exploded. Both sites are on White Sands Missile Range.
Some of the early V-2 launches were quite exciting. I watched many with my grandmother, Laura Miller, from the front steps of her house at the corner of Melendres and Hadley in Las Cruces.
The rockets would rise from behind the Organ Mountains and eventually pitch to the north and follow a jagged trail down. But sometimes a gyroscope wouldn't perform properly and they'd head for parts unknown.
The V-2 testing led to bigger and better rockets. The Redstone became the workhorse of the space program, launching the first satellite. Then came the Jupiter and the Saturn, which launched men to the moon.
The WSMR Museum has an early V-2 in a building recently constructed to house it. In the main building are many displays telling the history of the base. There also are rooms taking you back to prehistoric times and moving up through the Spanish, the Apaches and the cowboys.
And don't miss the gift shop. We certainly didn't. The Miller credit card suffered serious damage, mostly on books. But my wife found some exquisite jewelry, made by local artists that she just had to have.
The museum is free and open year-round. The hours on weekdays are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on weekends are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The missile park is open during daylight hours and the missiles are well marked.
The entrance is 22 miles from Las Cruces and 44 miles from Alamogordo. It is well marked on the Interstate. But once you've turned off, it's a guessing game until you've driven four miles north to the gate. It is an easy walk from the parking lot to the museum, but if you take your driver's license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance to the visitor center at the gate, you get a pass to drive in.
A great idea before going is to check the museum Web site at Larry Furrow and Jim Eckles of the public affairs department have done a great job on it.
WED, 10-19-05

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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