“Science Takes Off”
by Sarah Scoles
Popular Science, October 20, 2015
Space Travel meets Mojave
Slick commercial spaceflight companies do their work from a “space port” in a run-down town in the remote desert: Mojave, pop. 4,238.
Mojave began as a railroad construction center in 1876 and soon became the endpoint for the 20-mule teams carrying borax westward. Now, cutting-edge spacecrafts’ blastoffs (and, sometimes, their explosions) reverberate off sage-speckled hills around it. But downtown buildings are boarded up. Time has jackhammered sidewalks. Thirty-three percent of residents live in poverty; 26 percent are unemployed. But they live next-door to young, well-off engineers who moved there just for space-work. The culture clash isn’t hard to imagine.
A city-led project called “Revitalize Mojave” plans to make the town better for both groups. Its timeline details the city’s Cinderella transformation into a vibrant live-work-play place, with farmers’ markets! Boutiques! More public trash cans! But is this a pipe dream, and will the Dollar General still be the social hub in 2025? And what does it mean for a wealth-based tech industry to invade a town without helping create the infrastructure to boost that town?
This article would enter the world of Mojave, talking to the Space Port’s CEO (Stuart Witt) [who once publicly suggested the town be bulldozed and built-over as a “playground” for the engineers], a sample of engineers, and a sample of long-time residents. The article would paint a vivid profile of place and of the current space industry, and it would investigate how technological industries shape communities. It would be like those North Dakota oil boom-town stories, but for space travel. It’s got tech, spacecraft, and their influence on actual humans and communities.