Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Inspiring dreams for a new generation..or..Does this tour van have flight capability?

By S. Derrickson Moore
dmoore@lcsun-news.com
LAS CRUCES— I was okay — and still righteously blasé — until we got out on the Spaceport America runway.
I looked out at the portentous gray strip stretching enticingly in front of us, and up at the wild blue yonder my aircraft engineer, U.S. Army Air Corps pilot daddy used to sing about.
“Does this vehicle have flight capability?” I hopefully asked our leader, Mark Bleth, as he piloted our Follow the Sun Tours van down the evocative, sparkling-new 10,000-foot Spaceport runway.
He laughed and assumed full-tilt launch position and for a magical moment, I thought I’d convinced him to give it a go.
Unfortunately, a pair of buzz-kill Spaceport security guys intervened to tell us tour busses are no longer allowed on the runway, so that’s not a transcendent experience you’ll be able to share if you take the Spaceport tour.
But there’s still a lot to make it worthwhile for you, your kids and grandkids. And I was a hard sell, mind you. About a decade ago, when I got vaguely seasick and claustrophobic just watching an IMAX simulated spaceflight at Tombaugh Planetarium, I realized I’m not particularly eager to head for space myself. I’ll wait for my next lifetime, thanks anyway, when they’ve gotten the bugs out, the price down and some creature comforts built into our space cruises.
Frankly, I can’t think of any conditions in which I could not find better use for $200,000 than a two-hour space jaunt. And though in the end I caved and voted for it, I had serious reservations about allocating county tax dollars to Spaceport in a time of so many earthly needs.
And yet ...
I had a moment of temptation when Bleth talked about the development of sister spaceports in places like Dubai and Switzerland, and the possibility that we might soon make an up-and-down flight that would take us from Spaceport America to, say, Spaceport New Zealand, in two hours, about the time of a round-trip from Las Cruces to the El Paso Airport.
And there on that now-forbidden runway, surrounded by Jetson-ish architecture, I flash-backed to childhood memories.
Sputnik. Telstar (the hit instrumental song inspired by satellite sounds). Worrying with my childhood buddies about the monkeys and dogs drafted for first astronaut duties. Wehner von Braun guest starring on the Mickey Mouse Club, prompting neighborhood kids to try their own rocket launches.
Space race. The phrase inspired the Greatest Generation to build big schools and labs and beef up science programs for us Baby Boomers.
There was all the hype about the space program-related technological discoveries that would enhance our daily lives. Standouts included a pen that would write at any angle, if I remember right, and the iconic Tang, that too-sweet orange juice substitute with an icky, chalky texture and a vile aftertaste. But we all clamored for it, because it was what the astronauts drank in space.
It was all pretty darn exciting, even for those of us who knew early on that our futures were linked to the liberal arts rather than the rapidly evolving sciences.
Space fired our imaginations. We made paper cartons into space capsules and rockets and explored the universe in our own backyards. We flocked to sci-fi movies. Some of us wrote our own sci-fi stories and poems and music and even went on to create works like “ET,” “Close Encounters,” “Star Wars” and “Star Trek.”
And some of us, including the likes of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, were inspired to commit to science and technology in a big way, ushering in the computer age and innovations in everything from communications and transportation to medicine.
We dreamed of things that never were, and they came to be. And yes, our daily lives were transformed.
We have many problems, and they’re pressing.
And Spaceport won’t solve them. But maybe it will inspire some visionary souls to dream of new frontiers, new solutions, and a better life shared on our little blue planet.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at dmoore@lcsun-news.com; (575) 541-5450. To share comments, go to www.lcsun-news.com and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style.

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