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This Website is sponsored by the
White Sands Missile Range Historical Foundation
(Not Part of The Department of Defense)
dedicated to the support of the White Sands Missile Range Museum to collect, house, catalogue, preserve, display, and maintain the history of White Sands Missile Range.
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The Missile Range Story

Established in 1945, White Sands Missile Range is America’s largest overland military test range. At White Sands the world entered the Atomic Age when the first atomic bomb was tested at Trinity Site on July 16, 1945. Less than a year later, America entered the Space Age at White Sands when V-2 rockets roared into space from America’s first launch complex carrying test instruments and biological experiments.

The Museum tells these stories and many more. In fact, the Museum’s coverage of the Missile Range’s 3,200 square miles looks back to prehistoric times, when, for centuries, hunter-gatherers collected mesquite pods and killed now extinct camel, mammoths and horses for food. Their campsites, bedrock grinding stones, pottery and rock art are found all over the missile range. During wet cycles these people were able to establish more sedentary lifestyles. They built permanent pueblo structures, farmed the edges of the Tularosa Basin and traded goods with groups in Mexico and Central America.

Europeans arrived first as Spanish explorers and missionaries at the end of the 16th Century. Their "Royal Road," the Camino Real, ran along the Rio Grande to the west of here.

Friction between the local Apache tribes and European settlers erupted into violence many times on what is now White Sands. In 1880, Buffalo Soldiers from the 9th Cavalry clashed with Chief Victorio’s Apache followers in the Missile Range’s Hembrillo Basin.

Once Victorio was defeated, pioneering ranchers and miner flooded the area. On these dry, marginal lands, ranchers managed to make a living raising cattle, goats and sheep. Miners found a vast variety of mineral in the mountains but never the bonanza strike.

Agriculture ruled the area until World War II. At the close of the war, White Sands was established to test the new-fangled rocket technology emerging, especially fro9m Germany. Since 1945 the Missile Range has conducted more than 42,000 missile and rocket firings. In addition to examining new weapon systems for the Army, Navy or Air Force to see if they work properly, the Range also conducts purely scientific research. NASA rocket payloads are regularly launched to collect data about the sun and stars or conduct microgravity experiments.

Today, White Sands continues to test the most advanced technologies. Many missile like the THAAD don’t even have explosive warheads anymore—they must actually strike the target to destroy it. Also, powerful lasers are being used to bring down planes and missiles.

At the same time the military shares the Range with a huge assortment of plants and animals in almost pristine natural condition. Recently, wildlife biologists studied mountain lions found in the White Sands mountains. Other scientists are currently conducting research on one of the world’s largest herds of African Oryx which freely roams the Missile Range.