Chattanooga Times Free Press
Blue Origin brings space tourism to tiny Texas town
VAN HORN, Texas — For years, the official letterhead for the small town of Van Horn, tucked neatly among the foothills of the Guadalupe Mountains, read simply: “Farming, ranching, mining.”
And while there is still some farming and ranching in this far West Texas community, and a talc mine still operates near the edge of town, there’s another booming business in its midst: space tourism.
The sprawling spaceport of Blue Origin, the company founded by business magnate Jeff Bezos in 2000, is located about 25 miles outside of the town of about 1,800 residents on what was once desolate desert ranchland. On Tuesday, the company plans to launch four people on a 10-minute trip into space, including Bezos, his brother, Mark, female aviation pioneer Wally Funk, and Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old Dutchman and last-minute fill-in for the winner of a $28 million charity auction who had a scheduling conflict. Funk, at age 82, and Daemen will become the oldest and youngest people in space.
“That’s the big buzz in this little town,” said Valentina Muro as she rang up a customer at the Broadway Café along Van Horn’s main strip. “It’s kind of put Van Horn on the map a little more than it was.”
The town, which sprouted up in the late 1800s during the construction of the Texas and Pacific Railway, now is mostly an overnight stop for travelers along Interstate 10, which runs parallel to the town’s main road, dotted with hotels, restaurants, truck stops and convenience stores.
“Our biggest driving force is the tourism dollar,” said Van Horn Mayor Becky Brewster.
The town’s proximity to Big Bend National Park, the Guadalupe Mountains, an ancient barrier reef that includes the four highest peaks in Texas, and New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns also makes it an ideal pit stop for tourists.
“We often plug ourselves as the crossroads of the Texas Mountain Trail,” Brewster said. “We’re right here in the center and this can be your hub for all your adventures in far West Texas.”
As for the impact that Blue Origin’s operations have had on the town, the reaction among locals is mixed. While employees and contractors have been working at the facility since about 2005, Brewster said it’s just been in the last five years or so that workers for Blue Origin have started integrating themselves into the community.
“When they were in the development stages, Blue Origin was so secretive about what was going on, their people couldn’t really socialize because they couldn’t talk about their work and things like that,” Brewster said. “And it was like, here are the Blue Origin people and here are the Van Horn people. But that’s starting to change for the better.”