One of the things I’d like to do in my book is show how the emerging commercial spaceflight industry is changing a dusty little frontier town in California.
Mojave has been a crossroads all its life, a stopping place on the way to someplace else. Mule teams, trains, trucks, airplanes have all left their indelible marks on the town. Now it’s a crossroads to space. This newest mode of transport has set in motion what could become the biggest transformation of all.
I’m spending time in and around Mojave this week to try to capture the character of the place and where it might be heading. I’ve been talking with locals, people who grew up there as well as those who moved there anywhere from 8 years to three months ago. Some highlights from yesterday’s visit:
–Quote of the day (from a new resident): “Mojave is a toilet bowl.” Perhaps half of the 3,000 residents are unemployed and drug use is a problem says the new resident. A lot of the town’s buildings are in various stages of collapse. At first glance, you wonder why the hell anyone would choose to live there. And yet….
–It’s a true frontier town, an edge, with all that entails. Another person I spoke with yesterday moved there 8 years ago and now it’s home and she loves it there. You can see over the horizon in Mojave, look over the edge of the world and begin to see what might lie beyond. That puts an electric charge in the air that I can feel even on a day trip.
–The place is on the upswing. New single family houses are going up on the edges of town, and developers can’t keep up with demand from engineers and others hiring on to new space companies like Scaled Composites and XCOR. One new hire I talked to at XCOR spent three weeks trying to find some place to live, any place.
–Too much development, and of the wrong kind, could ruin the features of Mojave that make it ideal for commercial spaceflight. Yet prosperity must include development. So there’s tension between those forces. Ideally, says one of my contacts, Mojave will become a destination for space tourists, media, and spectators, who will spend money there, and then leave.
UPDATE AT 1:35 FROM MOJAVE AIR/SPACEPORT: Bill Deaver, editor and publisher of the Mojave Desert News has just set me right on a couple of points…Unemployment here is only 8 to 10%. And something that really pisses him off is East Coast journalists breezing through here and calling the place “dusty.” Oops! Sorry Bill!