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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Does Virginia's spaceport have the right stuff?

All his life, 65-year-old Craig Purdy has had his eye on the sky.

As a teenager in sleepy, rural Chincoteague in the early '60s, he watched "rocket shots" out of nearby Wallops, then a Naval air station on a marshy 6-square-mile slip of barrier island in Accomack County on the Eastern Shore. Small sounding rockets would soar into the upper atmosphere and beyond, hovering to study the winds, the sun, the moon or the elements before tumbling back to earth.

Purdy's father was a retired Navy man and electronic technician at the station; while an engineering student at Virginia Tech, Purdy worked there, too. After college he was hired full-time, conducting satellite research for decades before retiring last summer as deputy director of NASA Wallops Flight Facility.

"Until probably 10 years ago, I could tell you everybody's name that worked in Wallops," said Purdy. "Everybody knew each other. Everybody worked together. It was like a family atmosphere."

The oldest continuous-use launch site in the country, NASA Wallops has undergone many incarnations since 1945, when it began as a pilotless aircraft research station.

Now it's poised for its biggest transformation yet.

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