BROWNSVILLE, Texas (KVEO) – One Brownsville resident has mastered captivating the attention of thousands in the digital space of social media, but he says his true calling is in outer space, and as he has shared with Elon Musk himself, he wants to be among those who help establish the human race on Mars.  

For the Brownsville resident who knew the Boca Chica area before it became the gateway to Mars, what is taking place in amongst the familiar tidal mudflats and coastal prairies, may be difficult to comprehend at first glance. 

The view of the launch site from Boca Chica Beach looks like a snapshot of the future. Heavy machinery and metal structures jut out from behind unique dunes of wind-blown clay. Those that watch can imagine this as a scene from a sci-fi novel, after humans land on Mars and have to start building structures from scratch amongst the raw terrain. But that may not be too far from reality. 

Mars is starting to look within reach from Boca Chica Beach, as SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and his 1,200 employees at the South Texas Starbase site rush to build a vehicle capable of inter-planetary travel. 

Children playing in the sand on Boca Chica Beach with SN9 and SN10 in the background, January 2021. [Gaby Moreno]

Within less than a year, the SpaceX build and launch site has expanded beyond recognition. The launch site boasts one of the tallest structures in South Texas, while the build-site down the road is home to a Starship prototype that has launched and successfully landed (SN15), as well as a Starship that became outdated before it was even launched (SN16).  

After four Starship sub-orbital test flights, the aerospace company is gearing up to take it to the next level: an orbital test flight with a fully-stacked, 394 ft Starship and Super Heavy booster, expected before the end of the year.  

Just days after company CEO Elon Musk called on his employees from every SpaceX site around the country to temporarily relocate to the Brownsville area, the previously almost desolate Highway 4 is as busy as can be.

During the 6 p.m. shift change, caravans of employees rush up and down the two-lane highway to start or end a day of intense labor. Once everyone has arrived at their designated spot, the site seems mostly still, but the work being done is evident.  

Austin Barnard speaking about SpaceX. [Gaby Moreno]

Brownsville resident, Austin Barnard, 23, remembers a time no more than two years ago when all the launch site consisted of was a large mountain of dirt surrounded by a fence that had one small sign indicating it belonged to SpaceX.

Back in 2013, Brownsville residents, and even Barnard, had no idea that people from around the world would take interest in what was going on along the border, by the sea.  

However, nearly 85,000 Twitter followers and a verified check next to his username have launched Barnard to the front of the ‘who’s who’ amongst the SpaceX fanbase and has given him enough influence to catch the attention of the company CEO himself. 

Under the shadow of a Starship, the introverted engineering student explained that he never expected to get so much attention for posting pictures and videos of things happening at SpaceX.  

“I started all of this just to share with my friends, I never thought that anyone would care,” said Barnard. “To have gone from a person that no one really paid attention to, being the background character, I’ve been flung to the front row, and it’s been… super cool.” 

Barnard’s fascination with SpaceX began in 2017, at a time when he says he needed something to focus on and look forward to. He says he did not know SpaceX had plans at Boca Chica despite them having been in the area since 2013, but once he found out about the testing, he was hooked.  

Barnard and his long-time friend Jose Rangel make a bi-weekly trip to the Starbase site to photograph updates and share them with thousands of hungry space fanatics online. He says a video of Starhopper and a video of a Starship slowly rolling down the street singlehandedly gained him a large part of his following. 

Jose Rangel and Austin Barnard across the SpaceX build site off Highway 4. [Gaby Moreno]

While Barnard enjoys sharing what he sees at the SpaceX site with his followers online, his true passion is the SpaceX mission. 

Barnard hopes to be among the first to make the voyage and help build a civilization on Mars, and he is okay with not coming back.

Barnard says he is in close contact with Musk and has shared his dreams with him. He says they both encourage each other to keep pushing forward. 

“I know that I’ll never get to see a luscious green Mars or massive biodomes, but I know if I want to see my dreams fulfilled, I have to go out there and get it,” said Barnard about wanting to work to create Mars into a habitable planet.  

Barnard recently documented the installation of 29 raptor engines on the Super Heavy B4 booster, the latest progress towards the Starship orbital flight. However, SpaceX is still awaiting an environmental review of the new integration tower by the Federal Aviation Administration.

“Our civilization hasn’t gotten this far by looking back, we always have to look forward. The more people that unify with a common dream, we can achieve greatness,” said Barnard.