If your travels take you south of Albuquerque, there are definitely some great space tourism spots to check out along the way … including Spaceport America! Below, you will find locations from the Very Large Array to the Trinity Site, as well as a map to help you plan your route.
Did you know that one of the world's premier astronomical radio observatories is located right here in New Mexico? The Very Large Array (VLA) is a unique space located at about 7,000 ft. above sea level on the Plains of San Agustin, about 50 miles west of Socorro, New Mexico. Consisting of 27 radio antennas, each 25 meters (82 ft.) in diameter, the VLA is operated by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NARO). Construction of the VLA began in the mid-1970s, with the first astronomical observing taking place in 1980. In 2010, the VLA went through a major upgrade to expand its capabilities. You can take a virtual tour of the VLA on NARO's website, but we'd recommend an in-person visit.
The VLA is located about two hours southwest of Albuquerque. To get there, take I-25S to exit 150 for US-60W. Follow US-60W to Old Hwy 60 until you reach NM-52S. Turn left at NM-52S, drive 2.5 miles and then turn right onto Old Hwy 60. The destination will be on your right.
The VLA Visitor Center is open daily from 8:30am until sunset, and you may take a self-guided tour during those hours. On the first Saturday of each month, guided tours are offered at 11:00am, 1:00pm and 3:00pm. No reservations are required, but you must show up to the VLA Visitor Center at least 15 minutes prior to your desired tour time.
Note: Tour times are subject to change. Please consult the National Radio Astronomy Observatory website for updated tour information.
On July 16, 1945, the first atomic bomb - informally nicknamed "Gadget" - detonated and forever changed the world. Project Trinity was the code name for the test, and today, the Trinity Site is the location where that first test explosion took place.
The explosion happened on the White Sands Missile Range, located about 60 miles north of White Sands National Monument. The explosion sent a shock wave of light and sound so intense that it made a vivid impression on at least a 160-mile radius. It also created a multi-colored cloud which surged 38,000 feet into the air as well as a crater a half of a mile wide and eight feet deep. Due to the intense heat, sand that was in the crater fused into a glass-like solid that was later named trinitite.
Following the successful detonation of "Gadget," the U.S. began constructing two new bombs, Little Boy and Fat Man, which were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki three weeks later.
The Trinity Site is only open to the general public one day each year (on the first Saturday of April). Therefore, if you're looking to visit the site, you'll need to plan your trip accordingly.
Take NM-52N to US-60E, continuing onto I-25S. Take exit 139 for San Antonio, NM and head east. Find complete directions here. The next Trinity Site Open House will be on Saturday, April 4, 2015.
If you happen to be in New Mexico on the first Saturday of April, you will be able to stand on the spot where the Atomic Age began, the Trinity Site. The slight 340-foot crater is the only evidence of the powerful 1945 explosion. Two miles from that crater is the McDonald ranch house where the plutonium core of the bomb was assembled. A pillar - known as an obelisk - marks Ground Zero of the Trinity Site.
For more information on tours, visit the White Sands Missile Range Public Affairs website. The next Trinity Site Open House will be on Saturday, April 4, 2015.
While in the area, don't pass up a visit to White Sands National Monument. Located in the heart of Tularosa Basin, White Sands National Monument is composed of wave-like dunes of gypsum sand and is a very popular spot for tourists.
Spaceport America, the future of commercial space flight and home to Virgin Galactic International Headquarters, is located in a small town called Upham, New Mexico. Learn more about Spaceport America here.
Plan your visit
Tours of Spaceport America are currently being offered by Follow the Sun, Inc. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Tours last approximately 3.5 hours and pick-up in both Truth of Consequences, New Mexico and Elephant Butte, New Mexico. For more information on the tours, please visit the Spaceport America website.