What began as an interplanetary humanitarian effort to save potential lifeforms on Jupiter continues to throw out the welcome mat for any and all alien life forms who have a hankering to visit our solar system’s third planet from the sun.
The Greater Green River Intergalactic Spaceport may have begun as a tongue-in-cheek attempt to have a little fun at a local City Council meeting, but it’s no joke that this tiny, ragged dirt airstrip about 5 miles south of Green River, Wyoming, is an official, bona fide spaceport.
Just ask George Eckman, whose greatest claim to fame for his 1991-1994 term as Green River mayor is having the town’s little-used backup airstrip renamed.
And it all started out of concern for the safety of any extraterrestrials from Jupiter.
‘The Neighborly Thing To Do’
In the infant stages of the internet, one of the first viral stories was how Jupiter was going to be subjected to an assault by fragments of the Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet. When Eckman saw that, he had an idea.
“Back in 1994 when I was mayor, there was a comet that was crashing into the planet Jupiter that had broken up into parts, and every day things were just smashing into it,” Eckman told Cowboy State Daily.
Seeing an opportunity to break up the doldrums of typical city council business, he drafted a resolution.
“I just though, we’ve been doing all this serious city stuff — filling potholes and stuff — I just wanted something to lighten it up,” Eckman said. “Comets are crashing into the planet Jupiter, so the neighborly thing to do would be to offer potential Juvians a place to go. I’ll just stick it into the agenda.”
The resolution was to rename the city’s backup airstrip, called 48U, to offer sanctuary to the possible residents of Jupiter who were, at the time, “in eminent peril,” the former mayor said.
‘Elvis, Come Home’
Eckman said he thought the joke would die there.
But then a friend who managed the nearby Rock Springs city airport got a Federal Aviation Administration application to officially change the airstrip’s name. They filled it out and forgot about it, he said.
It wasn’t as if people hadn’t been trying to contact extraterrestrial life anyway.
“We already were — stupidly, I thought — sending messages out into space at the time,” he said. “So, I thought let’s broadcast a message offering sanctuary. It was like saying, ‘If you’re out there Elvis, come home. We miss you.’”
For the most part, the rest of the council got the joke.
“Everybody got a good laugh at it. Five people voted for it and two people were sticks in the mud, and it passed 5-2,” Eckman said. “You think people would have a sense of humor.”
Eckman told Cowboy State Daily he doesn’t remember who voted no on the spaceport, and a copy of the resolution wasn’t available from the city when asked.
‘It Could Be A Great Public Relations Thing’
In the end, the joke was on Eckman, his buddy at the Rock Springs airport and the rest of Green River. The FAA actually approved the name change, and a tiny town in the southwest corner of Wyoming became home to the nation’s only official intergalactic spaceport.
“When the feds got that application, they must’ve laughed themselves silly,” Eckman said. “But they did it. They changed the name on all the official maps and everything.”
It was, and continues to be, a great marketing opportunity for the city that the former mayor said has never been tapped to its potential.
“Nobody’s ever really done anything about it,” he said. “They have Spaceport Days every summer, but that’s about it. I was always disappointed the chamber of commerce and everybody else didn’t pick up on it. You know, make little dolls and stuff.”
One angle that still makes Eckman chuckle is the notion of Green River claiming it saved Jupiter.
“It could be a great public relations thing — they survived the comet,” he said. “I’m surprised nobody’s done anything up there, put a building up there (by the airstrip) or something. Every once in awhile somebody steals the sign and we have to put a new one up.”
While it may not be a full-on marketing blitz, the Green River is proud to have an intergalactic spaceport and has to put out effort to keep it that way, said the city’s Public Works director, Mark Westenskow.
“It’s on the books, and if it’s not an active airstrip, it goes back to the BLM, so we’ve been doing intermittent projects” to keep it active, Westenskow said. “There are new markers, a new windsock. It is a place that can be landed at, and we’ve had emergency landings there. Occasionally, we’ve had military aircraft land there.”
The fourth weekend of August each year for more than a decade, Green River celebrates Spaceport Days, he said.
But for the most part, seeing “Greater Green River Intergalactic Spaceport” on a map is enough to pique the curiosity of plenty of potential visitors, Westenskow said.
“The community at large has not embraced it, but people do like it,” he said. “A lot of people stop at the chamber and ask about it. It’s fun.”
And while it hasn’t happened much recently, the sign out near the airstrip “would get stolen pretty frequently,” he said.
Although Roswell, New Mexico, has cemented itself as the Earth’s most visible and active hub to connect with alien life, Eckman said those extraterrestrials who don’t like the glitz and crowds may prefer landing in Green River.
For those visiting the intergalactic spaceport the traditional, boring way can take exit 91 off Interstate 80 and swing a right at the first stoplight onto Wyoming Highway 530 toward Flaming Gorge. Continue south on 530 through Green River then about another 5 miles. A left turn at the blue Adopt-A-Highway sign puts you on the spaceport road.
And just in case, the city will be ready if or when it’s visited by life for other worlds.
“We have some cameras up there and keep track of who’s trying to land,” Westenskow said.
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