Instead of eight passengers, Xcor's vehicle would carry one pilot and one passenger.

Land is cheap and rents are low, Greason said. Also, "nobody complains about making noise, or sending plumes into the sky."

Indeed, Mojave has taken the explosion at Scaled Composites in stride. In some ways, it's nothing new to a town built on mining and experimental aircraft.

The town's history with big explosions dates to 1884, when 90 cases of gunpowder stored at the railway depot ignited. The resulting fire destroyed much of the town.

Vicente Rodriguez, a cook at Mike's Roadhouse Cafe, said he worried sometimes about what was going on at the airport. "But I think they know what they are doing."

Deaver, the newspaper publisher, said he hadn't "heard a peep" of protest from anyone in town over the rocket projects.

"We don't want to interfere with the creativity here," Deaver said, "but we want to know who's on the site and what they are doing."

Greason said all the spaceflight companies knew there would eventually be an accident like the one at Scaled Composites.

"It was inevitable," he said. "It was a regrettable thing, but it is a fact of life. There are hazards and risks" to building rockets.

The explosion took place at 2:30 p.m. July 26 as workers were conducting a flow test of the propellant system for SpaceShipTwo, the successor to Rutan's X Prize craft. A tank of nitrous oxide, often used by hot rodders to boost horsepower, ignited. The test was conducted at room temperature and did not involve lighting the rocket motor.

"We felt it was completely safe. We had done a lot of these [tests] with SpaceShipOne," Rutan said at the time. "We just don't know" why the explosion occurred.

Through a spokeswoman, Rutan declined a recent request to talk about the accident that claimed the lives of Charles Glen May, Todd Ivens and Eric Dean Blackwell.

After the accident, Witt hired a consulting firm to review the airport's procedures and training. He has also told the half-dozen other rocket companies at the airport that he wants to know in advance of tests with dangerous chemicals.

Because the accident occurred on the ground, rather than in flight, it is being investigated by Cal/OSHA, the state agency charged with monitoring workplace safety.

Greason hasn't changed any of Xcor's practices yet, and other rocket builders said they doubted the accident would have a major effect on operations.

"The fallout is going to be negligible," said Peter Diamandis, chief executive of the X Prize Foundation and a guru of the private spaceflight revolution. "These people gave their lives pursuing a dream. . . . But accidents on the ground do not relate to the safety of vehicles in flight."

The accident has not slowed the entrepreneurs' enthusiasm for space.

Hudson, despite his failure with the rotary rocket, is back in town with a new business model. A company he co-founded, T/Space, is part of the new contingent of rocket companies. He recently bought a house in town to be closer to the space work.

As with the occasional retiree in a battered pickup still searching the hills around Mojave for gold, the solitude of the desert seems to breed an unreasonable gumption.

"Two types of people come out here," said Jonathan Goff, an engineer with Masten Space Systems. "Some are chasing dreams, and some are running from reality."

Masten, his boss, added sardonically: "Or both."