According to Deaver, publisher of the Mojave Desert News, the town was founded by Southern Pacific Railroad in 1876 as a stopover on the line between San Francisco and Los Angeles. It became a watering hole for parched miners who flooded into the area after gold was discovered on nearby Soledad Mountain.
In modern times, the airport has developed into a focal point of local industry. It was used to train military pilots during World War II and the Korean War. More recently, it's been largely known as a boneyard for decommissioned passenger jets.
What has persisted through good times and bad is the vast emptiness of the place. It's the reason the Air Force's flight test center is at Edwards, along with NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center.
The first space entrepreneur in Mojave was inventor Gary Hudson, who started Rotary Rocket Inc. in the late 1990s. He wanted to build a rocket with helicopter blades that would lift the craft into the atmosphere. Rockets would then ignite, sending the craft into space.
The craft was built by Scaled Composites, which was started by pioneering aircraft designer Burt Rutan. Rutan came to the desert in the 1960s to work at Edwards, and later broke away to build experimental aircraft on his own.
But the rotary rocket managed only a few test flights before Hudson ran out of money, a common problem that still haunts private rocketeers.
Rutan latched on to the rocket idea and decided to build his own. He was driven in part by a $10-million competition sponsored by the X Prize Foundation to create the first privately funded manned spacecraft.
In 2004, Rutan's ungainly looking SpaceShipOne and its pilot, Mike Melvill, journeyed to an altitude of 100 kilometers, winning the Ansari X Prize.
It was a milestone in spaceflight. Virgin Galactic has already started booking flights aboard a Rutan-built craft for $200,000 a trip. The company hopes to begin launching in 2009.
Today, the private space industry makes up about 10% of the business at the airport, Witt said.
People "have a sense of pride" over the airport's role as a birthplace of private spaceflight, Deaver said.
The town is facing increasing competition in becoming the center of private space travel. In addition to Mojave, the Federal Aviation Administration has licensed five other private spaceports, including Narrow Cape, Alaska; Wallops Island, Va.; and Burns Flat, Okla.
A variety of rocket companies, such as Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin in Texas, and PayPal co-founder Elon Musk's Space Exploration Technologies Corp. in El Segundo, have sprouted around the country.
But Mojave has its advantages, including experience, history and battle-hardened nerves.
After the demise of the rotary rocket, some of the engineers continued working on rockets. Greason co-founded Xcor Aerospace in 1999, and today it is the second-biggest space company in the area after Scaled Composites.
It has 35 employees and was recently named to Inc. magazine's list of the 500 fastest-growing companies in America.
"I'm not an Internet gazillionaire," Greason said. "We had to claw our way up. Not taking salaries the first couple of years helped."
Xcor is building a vehicle for the Rocket Racing League, a proposed venture pitting rocket-powered planes against each other. After that, the next milestone is a suborbital vehicle that would compete with Virgin Galactic.