The Museum of the Coastal Bend at Victoria College is seeking people who witnessed spacecraft launches at Matagorda Island more than 30 years ago. On Sept. 9, 1982, Space Services, Inc. successfully launched the 36-foot Conestoga 1 rocket from the south section of Matagorda Island. Conestoga 1 contained 40 pounds of water to simulate the weight of a satellite. It was carried 321 miles during a 10.5-minute, suborbital flight that reached an elevation of 195 miles. According to the Victoria Advocate, this was the first privately-funded rocket to reach space. A year earlier, on Aug. 5, 1981, the 59-foot Percheron rocket, a low-cost commercial test vehicle, was fired from Matagorda Island but exploded at launch due to a malfunction.

Witnesses include people working at the site, those who saw a launch, or anyone who was involved in any way with the launch efforts. "The Conestoga launch on Matagorda Island laid the foundation for today's private space launches, which deliver supplies to the International Space Station and launch satellites into space," said Eric Ray, museum curator. "Most people don't know that private spaceflight really got its start right here on the Texas coast. We'd love to hear from people who worked on or witnessed the space program at Matagorda Island - whether you have photos, video or memories."

Launch witness accounts will be included in the museum's temporary exhibit, "Above Texas Skies: Space Exploration in the Texas Coastal Bend," opening March 5. The exhibit will examine the role of the Texas Coastal Bend in U.S. space exploration programs over the last 50 years. Visitors to the exhibit will see a moon rock and learn the story of the first private space launch in history, how the space shuttle almost launched from the Texas coast, and how this region helped ensure astronauts were well-trained.

If you have information, call or email the museum at 361-582-2511 or