BROWNSVILLE — Call her Rio.
So says Maria Pointer, a Boca Chica Beach resident who has found herself in a position she never imagined as the eyes and ears for thousands of people all across the world who are fascinated with SpaceX’s Starship Hopper prototype being built practically in her backyard.
“So she’s born on the Rio … and it just makes sense to me. We’re watching this baby grow up. I mean, she’s never going to go into space. She’s just going to hop,” Pointer said from her front porch, as workers continued constructing the suborbital portion of the hopper just to the west of her house across a field. “She’s kind of like the brain child of what these people in California are trying to figure out. She was born in the grass.”
Online, she goes by Boca Chica Maria and runs a popular Facebook page called SpaceX Boca Chica and contributes to a Facebook SpaceX Boca Chica Group, which has more than three thousand members. Her photos of progress at SpaceX and the Starship Hopper prototype are widely circulated on the Internet.
Pointer’s quaint house with well-tended gardens is sandwiched between SpaceX properties off of State Highway 4. To the east, is a solar farm that is interspersed with satellite towers and several buildings and to the west is a busy construction site where crews work on the hopper around the clock.
From her front porch, Pointer can see the Boca Chica Launch Site where the bottom portion of the hopper looms tall over the landscape.
That hopper was moved from the construction site just a little more than two weeks ago, and it passed right down the road in front of Pointer’s house.
“I couldn’t hardly move. I was trying to move and it was like I was falling over,” Pointer said of when she saw it pass by her house. “It was so crazy. And I thought it was crazy juicing oranges and looking through my kitchen window at a space rocket. It’s just crazy.”
Billionaire Elon Musk and his team at SpaceX chose the location for the Boca Chica Beach launch site in 2014, after a few years of negotiations with Brownsville and broke ground that year. In the past four years, it has been building its infrastructure in the area.
But since Pointer saw the bottom of the portion slowly moving on State Highway 4 in front of her house while she was juicing oranges, there has been a flurry of activity.
On Friday, the Federal Aviation Administration issued an order restricting airspace around the launch site between Monday and Wednesday.
The restricted area includes an approximate 1.25-mile radius around the site and the airspace from the surface up to and including 1,000 feet to provide a safe environment for space activity, according to the FAA.
Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. also signed an order Friday afternoon at SpaceX’s request extending closures of a portion of State Highway 4 to Boca Chica Beach for continued testing. The closure is scheduled for Monday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. with Tuesday and Wednesday being authorized as alternatives if SpaceX doesn’t utilize the Monday closure.
As for what the week’s testing at the site entails, Treviño couldn’t say.
“I don’t have any confirmation,” he said Friday afternoon.
In the past few weeks, SpaceX has confirmed that it is testing the hopper’s newly installed ground systems and that it would conduct a short static fire test, and Musk posted on Twitter on March 17 that the Starship’s first hops wouldn’t be far off the ground and wouldn’t be visible offsite.
Treviño’s Friday order followed two consecutive days of closures in the area while SpaceX conducted tank tests on the hopper.
While Pointer’s location and photos documenting SpaceX’s development over the years has propelled her to Internet celebrity among the throngs of SpaceX watchers across the world, it’s come with a price.
Pointer and her husband Ray retired to the remote location for the peace and quiet that existed there before SpaceX landed at Boca Chica Beach.
“Both me and my husband retired from the maritime (industry) and we related very much to the space industry. Ships are ships. I don’t care if they’re in the sea or in space or in the air. It’s the same concept. The same reality,” Pointer said. “Having a rocket shipyard right outside our house is not infuriating us because it’s there. It’s infuriating us because we tried to retire and get away from it! Now, we can’t. It keeps following us.”
That reality is stressful to Pointer.
“You can’t fight corporate footprints and our age group out here in Boca Chica, they’re the greatest of the space age generation. So it excites us at one side of the spectrum because we are all so happy to see private industry taking over where NASA left off; where at the other end of it, we’re at the last chapter of our lives,” Pointer said.
There’s no more time for her and her husband to build another dream retirement home like they did at Boca Chica Beach.
“We’re out of time, and so our Mecca of birding and isolation and wildlife and this sanctuary was the gem of Brownsville and we shared it with all the locals and we loved going to the beach and meeting the fishermen and watching the fiesta Sundays and the holidays and it was just a glorious place to age in place and we can’t do that now,” Pointer said.
She said that she and Ray just don’t know what to do.
“That stress is affecting everybody,” Pointer said.
The bright lights shine all night and metal clanks long after the sun goes down.
“It is so noisy when they got deadlines to do,” Pointer said. “Living next to a rocket shipyard is something we wanted to retire from. As mariners, we were in the shipyards. We didn’t want the shipyards outside our bedroom window.”
And those lights at the SpaceX are so bright at night that Pointer said her Christmas lights can’t be seen during the holidays.
But, Pointer said she wants to make the best of it.
“I’m just making lemonade out of lemons,” she said with a smile, as an American flag flew above a portion of the suborbital hopper at her neighbor’s property.