Space exploration is tightly woven into the American myth, an extension of the feeling of westward expansion–it was famously called “the final frontier” for a reason. And where better to experience the entire history of the space program than on the side of a water tank found along U.S. Highway 70 in the remote Organ Mountains of New Mexico?
To answer the obvious question, the water tank inspired the space museum, not vice versa. The museum was the brainchild of Lou Gariano–a water executive and a space enthusiast. A New Jersey native, he moved to Las Cruces in 1971 and founded a water company. He had a vision of doing something for the local space industry in his adopted state, so in 1991, he commissioned an artist to wrap his 1.2 million gallon water tank in a mural of the most compelling events in the history of the U.S. Space Shuttle program, all the way from the Mercury program through the then-recent Challenger disaster.
His enthusiasm for space was overwhelming and infectious, and the collection of space detritus grew to the point where a museum soon followed in 1994. He started asking astronauts for autographed photos, which line the walls of the museum like celebrity photos at a local diner. He also received donations of anything tangentially related to space, which is lovingly organized across the single-room museum. The collection ranges from tons of photos and space memorabilia to rusted rocket parts, to random space debris. There’s even a local teenager’s science fair diorama on display.
Although Gariano passed away in 2023, the museum remains open. He called it “The People’s Museum,” since many of the exhibits were donated locally. As befits this grassroots institution, the museum is free and continues to share the joys of space history with new generations.
Know Before You Go
The Space Murals Museum is free and open to the public. Donations are appreciated, and much like space, the gift shop is vast and ever expanding.