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Las Cruces Space Festival is out of this world

Roswell has long made a business of its run-in with, well, whatever it was that crash-landed near the city in 1947.

The Kilbourne Hole, about 50 miles southwest of Las Cruces, was a geological training ground for NASA astronauts headed to the moon. (Courtesy of The Las Cruces Space Festival)

Now southern New Mexico is looking to cash in on its proximity to the burgeoning extraterrestrial economy with the second annual Las Cruces Space Festival (, set for Sunday through April 13.

Last year’s event was something of a lark, said Alice Carruth, festival organizer, but this year’s space jam is better planned with a week full of activities.

“Last year, with three months, we planned a three-day event and 3,000 people turned out, which was great,” Carruth said. “We came away from it with a lot of lessons. We wanted to give ourselves more time to get more people involved.”

A bigger bang

The Las Cruces Space Festival blasts off Sunday with an open house at Spaceport America, including a close-up look at some of Virgin Galactic’s fleet.

With a full year of planning and bringing the Las Cruces Public Schools and New Mexico State University on board, the festival is a whirlwind of activities.

One of the big highlights is the April 9 excursion to Kilbourne Hole, about 50 miles southwest of Las Cruces, to visit a maar volcanic crater – a crater that is broad and shallow, typically filled by a lake, formed by an eruption with little lava – and celebrate the 50th anniversary of the training there by Apollo 12 astronauts Charles “Pete” Conrad and Alan L. Bean and support crewman Edward Gibson ahead of their lunar landing in November 1969.

Images from the Hubble Telescope will be the focus of “Our Place in Space” by Antonella Nota of the European Space Agency’s Space Telescope Science Institute.

Emily Johnson, NMSU assistant professor from the Department of Geological Sciences, will talk about the geological significance of Kilbourne Hole. And artist Tim Fitzpatrick will be using volunteers in a performance art piece, “Hand Made Light,” to tie together the history of space exploration, geology, science and modern art.

The festival blasts off Sunday with a free open house at the Spaceport America, southeast of Truth or Consequences. In addition to a tour of the facilities, the day will include rocket launches, robotic demonstrations and radio-controlled flying demonstrations. Reservations are required.

On April 8, the Challenger Learning Center, which is generally available only to Las Cruces Public Schools students, will be open for a weeklong series of missions for the general public to explore. Missions ( are for third-graders and older, and preregistration is required.

A star party at White Sands will feature “From the Nursery to the Graveyard — The Life of a Star.”

Also that night, Antonella Nota of the European Space Agency’s Space Telescope Science Institute will discuss “Our Place in Space,” at the Southwest Environmental Center. She will showcase enormous images, some as large as 30 feet across.

“She will interpret the images from the Hubble Telescope and where humanity fits in on the grand scheme of the universe,” Carruth said. “It’s part of a space art trail, with eight locations around Las Cruces.”

April 11 will feature a showcase of space-related activity and opportunities at the Las Cruces Convention Center, with interactive exhibitions from space organizations, robotics demonstrations, displays and talks from space-related companies in New Mexico, including NASA, Spaceport America, Virgin Galactic, White Sands Missile Range and others, as well as talks by NMSU graduates working in the space industry.

Memorable anniversary

Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was the first person to fly into space, on April 12, 1961, and April 12 this year will be a dedication to that achievement at the Rio Grande Theater. The activities include excerpts from the theatrical productions “Yuri” and “Silent Sky,” and a “Space: Our Dream and Our Reality” talk by Alires Almon. Almon is a Mayfield High School graduate who founded an international research team at Deep Space Predictive to look at the selection, monitoring and psychological performance of groups of humans in space and other extreme work conditions.

Also that evening, the White Sands National Monument will be the site of a star party, as well as a park ranger-led program “From the Nursery to the Graveyard – The Life of a Star,” inside the monument’s amphitheater. And at the Dripping Springs Natural Area, members of the NMSU Astronomy Department and the Astronomical Society of Las Cruces will have eight telescopes in a stargazing party.

The International Space Station becomes the focal point April 13 at the Plaza de Las Cruces when astronaut Donald Pettit speaks about his time aboard the orbiting station. The day includes many other activities on the plaza with hands-on STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – displays. And the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum will build a model satellite and learn about how satellites are used in agriculture.