Depending on where you’re from, you might know that New Mexico is the birthplace of Demi Moore, Smokey Bear, and the first atomic bomb. It is also the burial place of Billy the Kid and tons of nuclear waste (at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant). Even though the hit television series Breaking Bad put New Mexico on the map for many people, there are still a good number of U.S. citizens who don’t realize it’s one of the 50 states (#47). New Mexico residents sometimes joke that they’re the lost state – the only one with USA stamped on their license plates. Regardless of the reason for this confusion, those who live there have always known why it’s nicknamed The Land of Enchantment.
Immense blue skies (where the sun shines 360 days a year), hypnotic sunsets, and a temperate climate that makes it possible to play outside nearly every day of the year have captured many a child’s heart. Lava flows and surreal caverns, forested mountains and rocky mesas, and the diverse cultures of ancient peoples and nationalities from around the world are also found in New Mexico.
Less than 2,100,000 people live in 121,589 square miles, hemmed in by Arizona (west), Colorado (north), Texas (east), and Mexico to the south. It is these large areas of open and undeveloped lands that have drawn artists and celebrities for years, as well as research and development from government and private sectors. Such secluded places make excellent hidey-holes for secrets and keep the public safe from a variety of dangerous activities.
New Mexico has only been a state since 1912, but it already has a hand in shaping the world. Here are a few ways this state is connected to science fact and fiction.
Ham the Astrochimp, the first primate launched into space (1961), was trained at Holloman Air Force Base near Alamogordo.
Spaceport America: Virgin Galactic is one of the companies planning to send tourists into space from this location near the town of Truth or Consequences adjacent to the restricted airspace of White Sands Missile Range.
UFOs – Roswell: Filled with alien-inspired shops and attractions, Roswell is home of the International UFO Museum and Research Center. UFO sightings, Hangar 84, alien abductions – it all happened here. Read the “living history” of the July 1947 UFO crash told 50 years later by witnesses to the event now known as the Roswell Incident.
The Very Large Array (VLA) – Socorro: Astronomers from around the world use these giant antenna dishes to listen to the universe and observe celestial bodies. VLA has been called a sci-fi icon because of its recognizable features in movies.
White Sands Space Harbor (WSSH) was a Space Shuttle runway, test site for rocket research, back up landing site for space shuttle missions, and primary training area for NASA’s Shuttle pilots practicing approaches and landings. Located west of Alamogordo within the White Sands Missile Range.
Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) – Los Alamos: As part of the Manhattan Project in 1943, they designed and built the first atomic bomb in 20 months. Their basic mission now is to maintain “the safety, security, and reliability of the nation’s nuclear deterrent without the need to return to underground testing.” Bioscience, Lasers, supercomputers, 3D simulators.
New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (NM Tech) – Socorro: One of the top 10 engineering programs in the U.S., it’s a center of higher learning in advanced fields of science and technology. Geology, Astronomy, Seismology. The Energetic Materials Research & Testing Center (EMRTC) has blown stuff up on “M” mountain for decades.
Sandia National Laboratory (SNL) – Albuquerque: In the 1940s, Los Alamos National Laboratory moved its Z Division to Albuquerque’s Sandia Army Base where it was renamed. Most of their research focuses on enhancing national security in regards to renewable energy systems, climate and environment, robotics, defense systems, and weapons testing. Albuquerque residents still wonder about the possibilities of weapons stored in nearby bunkers and the foothills of the mountains.
- Z Pulsed Power Facility at SNL, informally known as the Z machine, is the largest X-ray generator in the world and is designed to test materials in conditions of extreme temperature and pressure.
Trinity Site – Alamogordo: On July 16, 1945 the world’s first nuclear explosion occurred in the New Mexico desert on what is now White Sands Missile Range. The test was code named “Trinity” and the spot where the explosion occurred became known as the Trinity Site.
Just a few of the more famous sci-fi authors who live (or did live) in New Mexico:
Daniel Abraham and James S.A. Corey (Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck)
George R.R. Martin
Melinda M. Snodgrass
Walter Jon Williams
Roger Zelazny (Read George R.R. Martin’s “In Memoriam: Roger Zelazny“)
♦ Movies and Television
You’ll also see shots of the state in other films including Contact (1997), Transformers (2007), Cowboys & Aliens (2011), The Avengers (2012), and The Host (2013). In production or just wrapped: Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice and The Scorch Trials (sequel to The Maze Runner). Visit the New Mexico Film Office for other movies and TV shows filmed here.
Bubonicon – Albuquerque: This annual Science Fiction & Fantasy Convention began in 1969 and is named for the bubonic plague that often sweeps across the state like a zombie virus (just kidding, but it is named for the plague that shows up in some parts of the state on occasion). To help offset the connotations of the name, they adopted a cute mascot named Perry Rhodent. Attendance for the last five years has ranged between 640-980 at each convention.
Microsoft – Albuquerque: Bill Gates and Paul Allen first registered Micro-Soft as a business with the State of New Mexico in the mid-1970s.
Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) – Carlsbad: The United States’ only deep geologic repository for permanent disposal of a specific type of waste byproduct of the nation’s nuclear defense program.
You might want to check out:
- Federal Research and Development in New Mexico from Discovery and Innovation: Federal Research and Development Activities in the Fifty States, District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico
- A timeline of the history of Sandia National Laboratory
- Out of This World: New Mexico’s Contributions to Space Travel by Loretta Hall