The recent successful landing of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft at the Utah Test and Training Range1 in the West Desert near Dugway created a lot of excitement! But did you know that spacecraft landings in Utah’s deserts could have been a regular occurrence had history played out just a little differently?
In 1971, Utah State Senators Ralph Preece, Karl G. Swan, and E. Lamar Buckner proposed that an inland space port be built in western Utah. The State Legislature passed two bills: creating a Spaceport Committee and establishing an Inland Space Port.
The Spaceport Committee argued that Utah was the ideal location for a spaceport for a number reasons. The state’s high elevation and dry climate would provide more thrust for launches and reduce weather delays. Utah’s sparse population would minimize the risk of casualties in a launch failure. Additionally, the committee proposed that the spaceport could be used to launch commercial satellites and other spacecraft.2
Although the committee requested that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) give formal consideration to their proposal, NASA ultimately decided to build the Space Shuttle launch facilities at Cape Canaveral, Florida, and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The decision was made on account of several factors, including the availability of existing infrastructure at these sites and their proximity to the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, respectively.3
Although Utah’s Spaceport proposal was unsuccessful, the state has continued to be involved in the space industry. Today, Utah is home to many aerospace companies, including Orbital ATK, Northrop Grumman, and Boeing.4
- Hill Airforce Base, Utah Test and Training Range, https://www.hill.af.mil/About-Us/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/672497/utah-test-and-training-range/.
- Utah State Archives and Records Service, Utah Spaceport Committee, Reports, Series 1255.
- Swedin, Eric G. 2016. “Utah’ Spaceport.” Utah Historical Quarterly 84, no. 3 (November). https://issuu.com/utah10/docs/uhq_volume84_2016_number3/s/10121903.
- Governor’s Office of Economic Development, Aerospace and Defense Industries, https://business.utah.gov/targeted-industries/aerospace-defense/.