Space City 2.0 | How Houston remains poised to support humankind's next giant leap

The legacy continues at Ellington Airport and Houston Spaceport, the hub of innovation and commercial space flight.

March 25, 2024

Ellington Airport (EFD) has served Houston for more than 100 years. Previously known as Ellington Field or Ellington Air Force Base, the aircraft landing field was constructed in 1917 on 1,280 acres of Texas prairie 18 miles east of Houston. The first military pilots for the United States of America trained at Ellington during World War I. It was originally established for pilot and bombardier training. By April 1918 training at Ellington included dropping live bombs. 

According to the Texas State Historical Association, the base was closed in 1920, and by 1930 the only remains were the concrete water tower and some concrete slabs on which small hangars once stood. In 1940 Congress authorized a program to rebuild Ellington. The new base was occupied in the spring of 1941, and thousands of pilots, navigators, and bombardiers were trained there during World War II. The base was inactive from March 1946 until 1947, when it became Ellington Air Force Base, a navigator-training school. The navigator-training wing was phased out in 1958. From the 1950s through the 1970s the base was engaged in pilot and navigator training for air reservists, air guardsmen, and navy, marine, and foreign students. NASA, which was established by Congress in 1958, became a tenant in 1962. 

Ellington's flight facilities were essential for NASA astronaut training. According to NASA, Mercury, Gemini and Apollo astronauts logged thousands of hours in T-38s to maintain their flying skills. As the home for all astronaut flight training, Ellington Air Force Base played a vital role in the startup and the success of the U.S. space program. "Ellington helped to transform Houston into Space City," said Arturo Machuca, Director of Ellington Airport. 

By 1967, Ellington was the site of the Apollo lunar landing training program. 


In 1976, Ellington Air Force Base was officially deactivated. All Air Force Reserve air squadrons were transferred to other USAF facilities. Texas Air National Guard flight operations, however, continue to this day. From 1976 to 1984, a USAF caretaker unit oversaw the maintenance of the base. 

In 1984 the base was turned over to the city of Houston to be operated as a municipal airport, once again named Ellington Field. It was used a a third civil airport for Houston. However, it continues to support military reserve and guard units, as well as NASA and the Grumman Corporation for its aerospace activities, along with various general aviation tenants. 

The airport is home to the annual Wings Over Houston Airshow and is also the place where many of the astronauts from the world-renowned Johnson Space Center receive their ongoing space training. Ellington Airport is a part of the City of Houston Airport System, including George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) and William P. Hobby Airport (HOU). 

PHOTOS | Scroll through an online gallery showcasing the rich history of Ellington Airport

In 2015, Ellington Airport became home to the Houston Spaceport, the nation's 10th FAA-licensed commercial spaceport. It offers unprecedented access to a thriving aerospace community. In addition to serving as a launch and landing site for suborbital, reusable launch vehicles, Houston Spaceport offers laboratory office space including technology incubator space and large-scale hardware production facilities.

Aerospace titans Axiom Space, Collins Aerospace and Intuitive Machines are all headquartered at the Houston Spaceport. In March 2024, Houston Airports signed a letter of intent for shared cooperation in space exploration with the French Space Agency (CNES) and the Rice Space Institute. 

"So many missions essential to the success of the space program have happened right here at Ellington," said Machuca. "And now in 2024, we have done it again. 

LEARN MORE | Houston Spaceport

On February 22, 2024, Intuitive Machines, the first anchor tenant to sign an agreement with the Houston Spaceport, landed its NOVA-C lunar lander on the moon, marking the first time the U.S. has returned to the moon since 1972, and the first time a private U.S. company has landed on the moon. "The Houston Airport System has been dedicated and committed to creating the infrastructure and building the ecosystem for companies like Intuitive Machines to reach the moon," said Machuca. 

"It truly is a team effort. We're proud of the crucial role the Houston Spaceport played in the success of the Intuitive Machines machine," reflected Jim Szczesniak, Director of Aviation for Houston Airports. 

What Houston Airports has done in partnership with NASA and the private sector has been nothing short of spectacular. The Houston Spaceport has "rejuvenated and revitalized Houston as Space City 2.0," said Houston City Council member Abbie Kamen in February 2024, "and that will last for generations to come." 

About the Houston Spaceport | Owned and managed by the Houston Airport System, the Houston Spaceport has a clear goal to create a focal point for aerospace innovation with a cluster of aerospace companies that will lead the nation in the transition from a government-driven to a commercially driven space program. Licensed for horizontal launch by the FAA in 2015, the Houston Spaceport is the nation's 10th commercial spaceport. It is working to create meaningful, tangible value for tenants and partners by ensuring our aerospace cluster offers the crucial tools and facilities to support aviation and space businesses. The Houston Spaceport is located at Ellington Airport.