VAN HORN, Texas – For years, the official letterhead for the small town of Van Horn, neatly nestled among the foothills of the Guadalupe Mountains, simply said, “Farming, ranching, mining.”

And while there is still farming and ranching in this far west Texas community, and a talcum powder mine is still operating near the outskirts of town, there is another booming activity within it: space tourism.

The sprawling spaceport of Blue Origin, the company founded by business mogul Jeff Bezos in 2000, is located about 25 miles outside the town of about 1,800 people on what was once a desolate desert ranch. On Tuesday, the company plans to launch four people for a 10-minute trip to space, including Bezos, his brother Mark, aviation pioneer Wally Funk and Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old Dutchman and a last-minute fill. . for the winner of a $ 28 million charity auction that had a scheduling conflict. Funk, at 82, and Daemen will become the oldest and youngest people in space.

“It’s the big buzz in this small town,” said Valentina Muro as she called a customer at the Broadway Café along Main Street in Van Horn. “It kind of put Van Horn on the map a little more than he was.”

The city, which sprouted in the late 1800s during the construction of the Texas and Pacific Railway, is now primarily a stopover for travelers along Interstate 10, which runs parallel to the city’s main road, dotted hotels, restaurants, truck stops and convenience stores.

“Our biggest driving force is the tourism dollar,” said Becky Brewster, mayor of Van Horn.

The city’s proximity to Big Bend National Park, the Guadalupe Mountains, an ancient barrier reef that includes the four highest peaks in Texas, and the Carlsbad Caverns of New Mexico also make it a great stopover for tourists.

“We often log into the Texas Mountain Trail junction,” Brewster said. “We are right here in the center and this can be your hub for all of your Far West Texas adventures.”

As for the impact Blue Origin’s operations have had on the city, the reaction from residents is mixed. While employees and contractors have been working at the facility since around 2005, Brewster said it was only about five years since Blue Origin workers began to integrate into the community.

“When they were in the development stages, Blue Origin was so secretive about what was going on, their people couldn’t really socialize because they couldn’t talk about their jobs and things like that,” Brewster said. “And it was like, here’s the Blue Origin people and this is the Van Horn people. But that’s starting to change for the better.

One of the barriers to connecting the locals and the scientists and engineers who work at Blue Origin is one that plagues many rural American communities – the lack of available housing. A local developer built a dozen two-bedroom houses and a small apartment complex, and all were quickly rented out to Blue Origin employees. Of the approximately 250 employees and contractors who work at the facility, Brewster said only about 40% live in Van Horn.

Krissy Lerdal, whose husband is an engineer for the company, said he lived in a local hotel for more than four years before finally moving his family to Van Horn from New Mexico.

“When we looked to buy here, there were five houses on the market, none of which passed inspection, so we had to bring in a modular house,” Lerdal said. “This is not my dream house, but accommodation is lacking.

Yet in the three and a half years that she has lived here, Lerdal said she has worked hard to integrate into the community. Her children attend the local school system and she joined the Women’s Service League, which raises money for scholarships. She also sits on the city’s zoning council.

“I know the people who live here and have bought homes here have gone to great lengths to get involved,” she said. “It’s difficult when most of the community is tied together. We’re underdogs and we don’t want to step all over the place, but we want to be involved, and that’s a tough line to follow.

“I’m happy to feel like I’m part of the community, but some people don’t feel like that.”

Linda McDonald, longtime Van Horn resident and Culberson County Headquarters District Clerk, said that while she was astonished at the prospect of people being launched into space from practically her backyard, she did bristles at the suggestion that Blue Origin put Van Horn on the map.

“We’re already on the map,” she told a group of about 100 Van Horn High School graduates at a recent rally and cheer meeting that was part of the annual jubilee. from the city. “You have helped us spread the word and we should be proud of it. “

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Follow Sean Murphy on www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy

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