The inaugural Las Cruces Space Festival (LCSF) recently took place in New Mexico – with a theme of “Making Space for Everyone” the festival celebrated space exploration and innovation, both within the region and across the world. 

Along with dozens of companies, organisations and space’thusiasts, Virgin Galactic co-founded the festival, held on April 12-14 to align with the anniversary of Yuri Gagarin becoming the first human to venture into space (April 12, 1961). 

A ribbon cutting ceremony launched the event and marked the official commencement of Space Week. For the days that followed students and adults alike were brought together to learn about space and the incredible companies working to make space for everyone.

Virgin Unite, Galactic Unite, Las Cruces Space Festival

“The main purpose of this first Las Cruces Space Festival was to celebrate space-related activity in the region and to spark an interest in the community and beyond,” said Jonathan Firth, Executive Vice President of Spaceport and Program Development and the driving force behind the festival. “I was reading about the significant economic impact of the Sundance Film Festival in Utah, and it made me think: Why not a Space Festival in Las Cruces? Space-related activity is all around us in southern New Mexico, it’s very much part of the local history here – and activity in the region is only set to grow. With increased activity at Spaceport America, there will be incredible opportunities for young people, along with great career prospects for experienced professionals. The thought was, let’s start celebrating what we have already, and grow from there.”

Virgin Unite, Galactic Unite, Las Cruces Space Festival

Jonathan pitched the idea to the City of Las Cruces, the Las Cruces Public Schools District, New Mexico State University and to various local aerospace organisations – the idea received universal support and it was down to that support, and the volunteers, that the event was so successful.

Students and adults alike were brought together to learn about space and the incredible companies working to make space for everyone.

The festival’s showcases brought together some of the greatest minds and most fascinating projects in the sector. The Challenger Learning Center shared what a mission to Mars would be like through simulated experiments, the New Mexico State University osted a full afternoon of events, ranging from space talks, to star gazing, to bottle rocket launches, and the Space Showcase thrilled local school children with talks from Dr. Suzie Imber and Alires Almon.

Virgin Unite, Galactic Unite, Las Cruces Space Festival

Dr. Suzie Imber, a member of the team working on the upcoming ESA Mercury mission, said the following about her experience, “The Las Cruces Festival was particularly special because of the large range of activities taking place, from lectures, to movies, to fancy dress parades. Several of the people I met had travelled large distances to come along and join in, but the festival also managed to capture the imagination of local people, and the community was brought together with a desire to learn more about space. To capture a city’s interest for a weekend is a really magical thing, and I was delighted to play a very small part in the festival. 

Suzie went on to share her enthusiasm about the opportunities the space industry is offering young people, “As we move towards being an interplanetary species we don’t just need space scientists, we need engineers, architects and designers, lawyers, and business people. Jobs will be created by this industry that didn’t exist when I was growing up, and that’s an exciting prospect for any young person.”

Virgin Unite, Galactic Unite, Las Cruces Space Festival

Amidst the festivities Virgin Galactic revealed New Mexico’s City Hall as the new location for the SpaceShipTwo replica, having relocated the model out of Spaceport America in preparation for commercial operations. Future Astronauts, Ron Rosano and Sally Krusing, come out to support the event and graciously shared stories about their time with the company and their work with Galactic Unite.

“One of the best things about the LCSF was raising awareness in the community about the many space-related opportunities that are happening right there locally. It was great seeing middle and high school students have an "oh, wow!" moment when realising that a spaceship will likely be flying in the skies over New Mexico a year from now! Many students are embracing the ideas and opportunities that await them, and developing a passion for being involved,” said Ron.

Virgin Unite, Galactic Unite, Las Cruces Space Festival

Everything at the festival was free and the theme of “Making Space for Everyone” was thoroughly embraced. We hope that next year the event will be even bigger and better, attracting more visitors and giving the people of Las Cruces and New Mexico even more to enjoy.

A special thanks to all involved for turning his idea into reality, and for bringing the whole community together to celebrate space. Further thanks to all volunteers from Virgin Galactic that pulled together to help make this a true success. 

 Galactic Unite is harnessing the power of space to inspire and support young people to pursue STEM-based education and ensure that future generations are equipped to solve Earth’s greatest challenges.