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Lucy is a senior staff photographer for Reuters. This is her multimedia blog about her assignments and travels

Truth or Consequences – Spaceport
Thursday, May 8th, 2014

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All photos by Lucy Nicholson © 2013 Reuters

Spaceport America's Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space Building is seen near Truth or Consequences

Having just trundled past cattle and tumbleweed through the high desert red plains of southern New Mexico, Elizabeth Mixon stepped off a tour bus to face the future.

A tourist photographs Spaceport Operations Center at Spaceport America near Truth or Consequences

She breathed in the dry air at the edge of Spaceport America and imagined the adventure of the first tourists destined to launch from the nearly quarter-billion-dollar facility.

“If you got up there, it would just be you and God,” she exclaimed with a smile on her face. “Wouldn’t that be cool?”

The main runway mission control is seen at Spaceport near Truth or Consequences

Mixon won’t be along for the $250,000 ride. At 83 and legally blind, she is only here for the tour, one of the many dreamers exploring this dusty outpost where Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic plans to launch one of the world’s first suborbital commercial spaceships as early as this year.

A firetruck is parked outside Spaceport Operations Center at Spaceport America near Truth or Consequences

Spaceport America spokesman David Wilson envisions a launching off point for global travel, to build tourist resorts in space, colonize Mars and mine resources on other planets. He expects around 200,000 visitors to the spaceport each year, which was bankrolled by the state.

A man cycles into the town of Truth or Consequences

The rumble of rocketry promises to wake the nearby sleepy town of Truth or Consequences and its roughly 6,400 residents and put it on the map for the first time since its last brush with fame a half-century ago.

A hut is seen in the middle of a field outside Spaceport America near Truth or Consequences

Among quirky art galleries and old motels that pipe in hot spring waters from an aquifer that drew tourists generations ago, entrepreneurs are looking for a lift from the new notoriety.

A motel displays a neon vacancy sign in Truth or Consequences

An Italian restaurant serves a “Space-Port-a-Bellas” mushroom appetizer. Ted Turner bought the historic Sierra Grande Lodge & Spa last year and plans to offer guests wildlife photo tours of his nearby 358,643-acre Armendaris Ranch.

The Rocket Inn is seen in Truth or Consequences

Newlyweds Val and Cydney Wilkes turned a burned out motel into the Rocket Inn they hope will take off.

Val Wilkes, 54, and her wife Cydney Wilkes, 56, stand outside their motel, the Rocket Inn, in Truth or Consequences

“I felt like I was joining in with the enthusiasm of building a great space future,” says Val Wilkes, 54. Engineers from Space-X, a Virgin rival that also has a lease at the Spaceport, have been among their guests.

Freeze-dried space food is sold in the Space Place New Mexico store in Elephant Butte

The venture is drawing a wide range of outsiders.

 

Guests spilling out of a downtown party hosted by Cary “Jagger” Gustin included a Belgian documentary film crew and a man who had arrived by jumping freight trains.

Jeff Dukatt, 59, displays a tie-dyed spaceport t-shirt he made at his store in Truth or Consequences

Jeff Dukatt, 59, was hanging tie-dyed Spaceport T-shirts to dry outside his store when three Maseratis motored by, heading towards Spaceport.

People wave at a car in the annual Fiesta parade in Truth or Consequences

An overall view of the town of Truth or Consequences

The small downtown is a mix of trailer homes and cottages clustered among the motels and small businesses. Streets and dirt alleys are empty for much of the day, save for lizards basking in the blazing sun.

Artist Roy Lohr, 69, stands by a sign on his home in Truth or Consequences

A new Holiday Inn and Walmart on the outskirts of the town 140 miles south of Albuquerque hint at the changing character of the town in a time warp.

Misty McArthur, 48, from Ruidoso, NM, soaks in the hot springs at Sierra Grande Lodge & Spa in Truth or Consequences

Famous for its gushing mineral baths, in which Apache Indian Geronimo is said to have soaked, the town of Hot Springs sold out its heritage in the 1950s by renaming itself after a popular radio quiz show in exchange for free publicity.

A display in honor of radio quiz show host Ralph Edwards, whose show the town was named after, is seen in Geronimo Springs museum in Truth or Consequences

For fifty years afterwards, show host Ralph Edwards visited at the beginning of May to host the T or C annual Fiesta.

Jessie Springer, 26, rides her horse in Truth or Consequences

The well-grounded weekend celebration today feels a century removed from the town’s current trajectory. The sheriff’s posse rode horses in this year’s parade amongst homemade floats and the Hatch Chile Queen.

Teenagers watch the rodeo in Truth or Consequences

Bill Morine, 87, watches the Fiesta parade go by in Truth or Consequences

Kids nudged each other excitedly as they spotted a huge white Spaceport America fire truck cruising in the procession.

 

“We want our 200 million back,” heckled Scott Kennicutt, 50.

 

“How come you have a truck like that?” shouted another spectator. “You haven’t sent anyone up yet!”

 

The Spaceport fire truck driver slowed down and leaned out of the window. “Coming quick, coming real quick,” he responded.

Justin Houston, 16, wears a prize-winning belt buckle at the rodeo in Truth or Consequences

At the rodeo grounds, children kept dusting off after being flung from cattle, as they kept alive a tradition derived from the bull riding and steer wrestling of sixteenth-century conquistadors.

A boy wears spurs on his cowboy boots at the rodeo in Truth or Consequences

A country song with the words, “I’ve got time to kill down in Brokenheartsville” blared from a speaker as 11-year-old Caleb Griego was lifted onto a steer.

People dance to a band during the annual Fiesta in Truth or Consequences

The animal bolted as the pen gate was opened. It leapt and shook in an attempt to toss Griego skyward. Six seconds later the crowd roared as the buzzer sounded and Griego was still hanging on.

Esteban Edwards, 7, holds a U.S. flag at the rodeo in Truth or Consequences

The boy approached the emcee to say he wanted to donate his prize-winning belt buckle to another competitor with cerebral palsy.

Zaryah Muller, 9, and Esteban Edwards, 7, walk in Truth or Consequences

The gesture passed with little fanfare, as the next competitors lined up for a moment of glory before being launched into the air and crashing to Earth.

The perimeter fence of Spaceport America near Truth or Consequences

 

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