White Sands Missile Range
White Sands Missile Range (WSMR), formerly known as the White Sands Proving Grounds, is located in Otero County, New Mexico, in the Tularosa Basin, a valley between the Organ Mountains, San Andres Mountains and the Sacramento Mountains of New Mexico. The area of the range is approximately the same as that of the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island put together. The story of the last annexation of territory by the base was the background for Edward Abbey's novel, Fire on the Mountain.
The white sands are composed of gypsum crystals which have leached out of the surrounding mountains. A distinctive ecology survives in this desert. Visitors may explore the dunes in the White Sands National Monument, located in the range.
Known since the 1660s as Jornada del Muerto, the range's landscape was sufficiently desolate to house the Trinity site. After the V-2 rockets of Peenemünde were captured in World War II, the rockets and the rocket scientists were taken to WSMR for reverse engineering. Today, seventy miles to the south, the US Army Air Defense Center, in Fort Bliss, Texas and WSMR form a contiguous swath of territory devoted to the art. Fort Bliss has an outdoor museum display of rocket-propelled missiles.
The German connection lives on as well, in El Paso Deutsche Schule, and Alamogordo Deutsche Schule, established to teach the German children of the soldiers who would later return to Germany after their tours of duty in New Mexico and Texas.
At Change of Command ceremonies on November 30, 2005, a civilian, Tom Berard, was named director of WSMR upon the retirement of Brig. Gen. Robert J. Reese from the Army, after 35 years of service. Brig. Gen. Michael J. Combest, Commander of the U.S. Army Developmental Test Command emphasized that Tom Berard is in charge of WSMR.EPTimes.1 There have been 6 general officers in command at WSMR since 1994; Reese's tenure has been the longest, at 28 months, during that period. Berard had been the highest-ranking civilian at the Range. Officials at the Department of the Army have said that as soon as the Army can get enough generals to staff all the command positions, the Army will appoint a general officer to lead WSMR. The appointment is expected to take at least six months and could take longer.
WSMR is located on U.S. 70 between Alamogordo and Las Cruces; the highway is sometimes closed for safety reasons while tests are conducted on the missile range.
On just one occasion, STS-3, the NASA space shuttle made a landing at Northrup Strip, 45 miles due north of WSMR Headquarters, when both Kennedy Space Center in Florida and Edwards Air Force Base in California were unable to accommodate a landing due to weather. In the movie SpaceCamp, the shuttle is depicted as landing here after missing a chance to land at Edwards