Newswise — For the low-income communities of New Mexico’s Otero County, finding affordable housing soon may become a bit easier with the donation of 21 housing units located at the U.S. National Science Foundation’s National Solar Observatory (NSO) facility in Sunspot, New Mexico to White Sands Habitat for Humanity in Otero County, New Mexico.

“The project removes 21 relocatable housing units from the NSO site,” says Geoff Roberts who is coordinating the effort for the NSO. “I’m glad the NSF saw the good in this program. We get to help out the communities nearby and we keep the material out of the landfills. It’s a win-win.”

The U.S. Air Force installed the units in 1962 to help house the growing community of scientists working at the NSF’s Dunn Solar Telescope at Sacramento Peak. Origins of Sunspot as the center of solar research in the United States date back to the 1940s after the U.S. military expressed interest in studying the Sun because of the effects on communication they noticed during World War II. The U.S. Air Force chose Sacramento Peak, at an elevation of 9,200 feet, because the sky was exceptionally free of dust and haze and permitted good seeing. The site also is close to Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo.

The National Science Foundation took over the facility from the Air Force in 1976 after which it was managed and operated by the NSO as the premier site for solar physics in the U.S. Prior to the NSO moving its headquarters to Boulder, Colorado in 2014, more than 50 scientists, technicians and their families lived at the site, devoted to studying the Sun. The towering Richard B. Dunn Solar Telescope still operates at the site under the management of New Mexico State University with site infrastructure support still provided by NSO.

“These houses have seen generations of solar astronomers living there with their families or visiting the site to use the telescopes,” says Valentin Martinez Pillet, director of the NSO. “I myself stayed in them when I first went there to observe in 1993. It was sad to think the houses would be torn down. We found a much better outcome that will help a community that has supported the Observatory for decades.”

The prefabricated units are designed to be taken completely apart. The walls and roof fold down into two sections. Once disassembled, the houses can be shipped flat with each house fitting on two trailers.

“An Environmental Impact Statement conducted by the NSF in 2018 identified the relocatable housing units as available for either demolition or transfer of title to an interested party,” said Luke Sollitt, NSF program director in the Division of Astronomical Sciences.  “NSF is delighted to enable not only the donation of the housing units themselves to such a worthy cause like White Sands Habitat for Humanity, but to provide the additional funding support necessary to defer the cost of their relocation from the Sunspot site.”

“These relocatables will stay in the Southern New Mexico Region and be utilized by low-income individuals and families, senior citizens, or disabled veterans,” according to the White Sands Habitat for Humanity’s Executive Director, Kuia Taiaroa. “These units will assist those that fall into the low-income range and will provide a safe, decent, affordable shelter, which every single person on this planet deserves. With this partnership, it gets us one step closer to our mission to build strength, stability, self-reliance and shelter and we can’t thank the National Science Foundation and the National Solar Observatory enough.”

The National Solar Observatory (NSO) is NSF’s national center for ground-based solar physics in the United States ( and is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) under a cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation.

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