Comprised of over 3,000 square miles, White Sands Missile Range is the largest Army base currently in operation. It serves as home to many testing ranges for rockets. It was created in 1945 and served as a test site for an early nuclear device. In the 1960s, several Apollo related activities took place at White Sands Missile Range complex. Over the years, in fact, the facility has been used by many different types of organizations and branches of the military for testing that needs a lot of space.
Updated: May 18, 2015
New Mexico has one Army base; the White Sands Missile Range (commonly referred to as WSMR). It was originally known as White Sands Proving Ground (WSPG). This base was created in 1945.
Towards the end of World War II, in 1944, the need for guided missile research as well as development was being realized. Major General G. M. Barnes, at that time was the chief of the Research and Development Service in the Office Chief of Ordnance. With his foresight, General Barnes’ participation was a driving force in establishing this facility to meet this need.
White Sands Missile Range is the largest of all currently operating Army bases. It covers an area of over 3200 square miles in the Tularosa Basin in southern New Mexico, cutting across 5 counties. The closest city is Las Cruces, New Mexico. WSMR is the largest employer of the citizens of Las Cruces with approximately 1600 contract employees and about 1750 civilian employees. This contributes an estimated $1.8 million/day to the region.
The base’s role changed as the years passed and technology developed, as well as the needs for “homeland” security changed. The base has seen missiles developed and tested. The launch of the V-2, the German rocket that, with the involvement of Werner von Braun, became the “foundation of all modern U.S. missiles”. The developing, testing and, on July 6, 1945, the exploding of the first atomic bomb happened here – now known as Trinity Site. The 1960’s saw Apollo project related activities. Today, White Sands continues to be an important component of the testing of advanced rocket systems for use by the Army as well as its “customers.”
Many branches of the military use this post for development and testing. Also, private industry “customers”, such as Raytheon and Lockheed Martin make use of the facilities. Many of today’s development continues to be related to space exploration. The facility is also used to help train other nations involved in a war or that may have been struck with a natural disaster.
Visitors are welcome to visit the museum and accompanying park on post. The museum’s exhibits good insight into the history of White Sands. The accompanying park has models of all the missiles and rockets that have been tested on the range. Visitors are also welcome to visit the Trinity Site which is open to the public the first Saturday of April every year. It used to be open twice a year, but budget cuts required cutting one of the days. The Trinity Site is a National Historic Landmark.
Outdoor activities abound here. Year-round biking, fishing, festivals and seasonal hunting are available. A place of interest to the fossil hunter as well as the seeker of beautiful sunsets is Picacho Peak, just seven miles from Las Cruces. For the historian, nearby Deming has ancient Native American artifacts and is where the second transcontinental railway began. Also nearby, are the cities of Alamogordo and Silver City – both said to have seen Apache campsites.
The post has permanent on post housing; temporary housing is available on post as well as in Las Cruces. Also on post: a medical clinic, banking, a community center, aquatic center, 9-hole golf course, arts and crafts center, gym, bowling lanes and eateries. Schools, both public and private, are off base in Las Cruces; transportation is provided. There are also some opportunities for college and community college courses in Las Cruces.
The White Sands Missile Range staff take pride in doing a good and thorough job to help with defending the peace as well as exploring and developing technology for peace time and in preparation for war time.