More to space tourism than Spaceport

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By Sherry Robinson

Virgin Galactic now has 610 paying customers and has banked $70 million in deposits, but most of us will probably never be among the first tourists departing from Spaceport America. But it’s entirely possible that we’ll join the throngs already visiting the Spaceport, or even wander into the two planned visitor centers.
We can enjoy more down-to-earth space tourism.
But first, a look at the science taking off from the spaceport.
UP Aerospace recently launched a rocket for NASA, which landed at White Sands Missile Range. Called SpaceLoft, the rocket carried seven payloads with scientific experiments designed by NASA and other agencies, as well as private industry, plus experiments from New Mexico students. The company, which has had six other launches at the Spaceport, has a $4.7 million contract to do seven more of these flights under NASA’s new program to shift space exploration to private industry with the end of the shuttle program.
Also aboard SpaceLoft were the ashes of the deceased who wanted a space burial, and Celestis Inc. is happy to accommodate those wishes. One of those paying customers was the late mayor of Hatch, Judd Nordyke, who was a longtime spaceport supporter.
Another development: Space Exploration Technologies Corp., called SpaceX, will be testing its new, reusable rocket here. This is after Texans speculated breathlessly that SpaceX would be there.
So, you see, the facility occasionally maligned as a boondoggle for rich tourists has many uses.
Some of Virgin Galactic’s employees show up at public meetings to tout the potential of space tourism in New Mexico, which is a good idea in case New Mexicans contemplate the price tag and get cold feet.
There’s far more to space tourism.
A few years ago the New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo created the New Mexico Space Trail (nmspacetrail.com) and noted 52 sites on the map. That’s remarkable when you think about it. They’re scattered over the state and include such obvious places as Roswell, T or C, and the Very Large Array west of Socorro, along with the state’s science museums and observatories. Thanks to our dark skies, we have a lot of observatories and many are open to the public.
Many sites are off the beaten path: places in northern and western New Mexico where Apollo astronauts trained (who knew?), the old Atlas missile silos near Artesia (again, who knew?), and archeoastronomy. The latter sites show us the astral sophistication of ancient people, who left behind petroglyphs and structures like Wizard’s Roost in the Sacramento Mountains, which were used like Stonehenge as a calendar.
For a fairly modest investment in a brochure and website, the museum and associated sites have gotten a lot of exposure.
USA Today wrote: “The recently launched trail commemorates the state’s rich space heritage. This is where guided missiles were developed, where early astronauts trained and where the nation’s most celebrated UFO incident occurred. It’s also home to Spaceport America, which will soon blast regular Joes and Janes — or those who can afford the $200,000 fare, anyway — into suborbital flight.”
New Mexico is even home to the concept of space archaeology.
Beth O’Leary, associate professor of anthropology at New Mexico State University, has spent several years advocating protection for Tranquility Base, the 1969 site of the Apollo 11 moon landing. She would not only like to preserve those first giant steps for mankind, but all the things left behind. To O’Leary, they’re not space junk, they’re artifacts.
We have a rich space heritage to show our kids, and the extra attention focused on the spaceport will raise the awareness of all.