If you want to find out what’s going on in Mojave, California, birthplace of the commercial space age, stop in at the Radio Shack on Highway 14 and ask for Jim.
Jim Balentine, the warm, big-hearted owner, grew up in Mojave, and with little prompting, he’ll tell you about the days when the airport was just a closed military base. When he was a kid, he and his friends raced land sails up and down the runways and played in foxholes left over from military maneuvers.
Mojave is a fun place to live, says Jim, especially if you love airplanes. Just hang around long enough and you’ll see craft unlike any others in the world. Jim took photos of SpaceShipOne’s carrier plane, White Knight, months before its official roll-out.
Jim’s on the airport board and he’s a general aviation pilot himself. He’ll be glad to sell you a CB scanner and tune it to the airport tower for you.
He sees a bright future for the airport, and by extension the town itself. Commercial spaceflight could turn into one of the world’s biggest industries, he says, and Mojave will continue to foster its greatest innovations, though its capacity for passenger spaceflights will be limited. That’s because the airport’s mission is to focus on flight test, not routine operations.
Jim pointed me to the air/spaceport’s mission statement on its website:
“Foster and maintain our recognized aerospace presence with a principle focus as the world’s premier civilian aerospace test center while seeking compatibly diverse business and industry.”
That last, about “compatibility,” is key. Too much routine traffic, and businesses conducting flight tests will have to look elsewhere for unrestricted airspace.