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Snapshot: Spaceport America

March 1, 2014
New Mexico
Foster + Partners

By Anna Fixsen

Snapshot: Spaceport America
Photo © Nigel Young / Foster + Partners

 

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On a barren patch of desert in New Mexico’s Jornada del Muerto basin, just 50 miles west of the site where scientists detonated the first nuclear weapon, Foster + Partners took on an extraordinary task: to construct the world’s first private hangar facility for spaceflight. Spaceport America, which broke ground in 2009 after the London-based firm won an international competition, contains a mission- control center, astronaut-preparation rooms, and a super-hangar, which houses up to two double-fuselaged carrier jets and five spacecraft specialized for suborbital tourism. The spaceport is supported by a heavy concrete core and anchored in the rust-colored soil by winglike earth berms, while a shell of steel sweeps over the structure. From the vantage point of a nearby historic trail—traversed by Native Americans, Spanish conquistadors, pioneers, and, soon, astronauts—the spaceport hovers on the horizon like a flying saucer. “I’d like to think you could have found this building on Tatooine or something,” Foster senior partner Grant Brooker jokes, referring to the planet from the Star Wars saga. Brooker recalls being inspired by photographs of early cosmonauts readying themselves for their extraterrestrial voyages. “All great transport buildings are about seeing and anticipating the journey,” he said. “In this building, it’s about exploring the excitement of the journey—feeling, hearing, and seeing the jets.” Would the architect like to go into outer space himself? “I’m available,” Brooker says.

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