In the fall of 1944, as a result of Robert Goddard´s rocket research in Roswell and the German success with the V-2 rocket, it became evident to military officials that a land-based range would be required for testing missiles. By firing the missiles over land they could be recovered after flight for further study. These studies would make it possible to develop future missiles for military and civilian applications.
Pentagon personnel used the following criteria in looking for a site:
*The range should be within the continental United States, with large expanses of uninhabited terrain where firings could be conducted without jeopardy to civilian populations.
*It should have extensive level regions, surrounded by hills for observation stations.
*It should have predominantly clear skies to afford year-round operation.
*It should be accessible to water, rail and power facilities but should not be crossed by railroads, major highways or air-lanes.
*It should also be near a permanent Army post and, if possible, be near communities which could meet the off-duty needs of the personnel employed.
Through the study of topographic maps, highway and commercial air routes, weather charts, etc. the officials found no single spot which met all the requirements. These officers and civilians from the War Department and the Corps of Engineers then visited all the possible sites. They found that the area now occupied by White Sands Missile Range was closest to meeting the requirements. It was not as large as they desired, being about 100 miles long and 40 miles wide, but it was chosen as the best possibility.
After Selection was made, the Corps of Engineers issued a real estate directive in Feb. 1945 which declared the use of the area to be of military necessity. Much of the land was already under the jurisdiction of the Government -- the Fort Bliss antiaircraft firing range, Dona Ana Target Range, the Castner Target Range and the Alamogordo Bombing Range. Other lands were leased from private individuals and state and local governments.
Original site plans for the installation were prepared in Washington during April and May of 1945. On June 12, 1945, Major Richard Crook of the Corps of Engineers submitted a memorandum to the District Engineer at Albuquerque outlining the buildings, roads and other developments needed for the new proving ground. Construction began on June 25.
Since it was felt the activity would be short lived, temporary buildings such as old Civilian Conservation Corps structures were moved from Sandia Base in Albuquerque. Nevertheless, consideration was given to possible future growth and the main post was divided into four areas or quadrants. This arrangement allowed each area to grow separately.
Initially, water came from one of the Cox wells near the new post. Wells for drinking water were quickly drilled and water from abandoned mines in the Organ Mountains was used for construction.
Activity was furious for several months and by fall Dallas-type hutments, 16 by 16 feet, were constructed to house troops, a missile assembly building was being built and a launch complex, with blockhouse, was ready six miles to the east.
Fifty years later White Sands is obviously a permanent military installation and most of the buildings constructed in 1945 have been replaced by more modern structures. The original missile assembly building the and blockhouse still stand however.