Established in 1945, White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) is a test range whose primary function is to support missile development and test programs for the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, NASA, and other government agencies and private industry. Formerly known as White Sands Proving Ground, it is one of the largest military facilities in the United States, with over 6,500 employees and covering an area of about 4,000 square miles. White Sands Missile Range is located in the Tularosa Basin of south-central New Mexico, between the Organ Mountains and the Sacramento Mountains. This strip of New Mexico desert has been in use since the 40’s to test practically every weapon system in the U.S. military arsenal. Pioneering research in rocket technology shortly after World War II at WSMR helped propel the U.S. into space. Because of this, WSMR is sometimes known as the “Birthplace of the Race to Space”.
White Sands was considered as a shuttle launch site in the early 1970’s (altitude would have provided payload advantage). This did not come to pass, but Northrup Strip at White Sands was selected as a shuttle alternate landing site. The orbiter Columbia landed there on March 30th, 1982. The strip, renamed the White Sands Space Harbor, was used as the primary training site for shuttle pilots to practice approaches and mock landings in the shuttle trainer aircraft. With the cancellation of the shuttle program, the strip was decommissioned.
More than 43,000 missile firings have been conducted at White Sands through the years, but White Sands is much more than missile testing. The range includes bombing ranges, the third largest solar furnace in the U.S., a thermal nuclear blast facility that tests the effects of a nuclear blast, and even a simulated third-world village where Special Forces often train. White Sands is also home to the High Energy Laser Systems Test Facility (HELSTF), the most comprehensive site in the United States capable of supporting directed energy technologies for the Department of Defense, other government agencies, industry, and academia.
The Soldier and Government Civilian population at White Sands Missile Range is expected to grow to 6,340. This represents an increase of 4,063 from fiscal year 2003. The Army also plans to re-station one HBCT from Germany to White Sands Missile Range by the end of 2013.