Friday, August 21, 2015

Spacey summer fun

Aug. 16, 2015 Las Cruces
In a summer that has had way too much sorrow and violence for what we like to think of as a carefree season, there have been a few lovely, refreshing, spacey moments.
I thought about those moments — and the decades that preceded them, when I was plotting an updated tour of six space attractions in southern New Mexico for today’s SunLife section. About the same time, I was catching up on episodes of the ABC series “Astronaut’s Wives Club.”
It took me back to my Baby Boomer childhood, when nothing man-made was orbiting our planet. The moon walk was an aspirational gleam in President John F. Kennedy’s eye, and it was still several decades before the Michael Jackson dance move it inspired.
We Baby Boomers are, of course, older than we like to admit, but we’ve still come an amazing distance in our lifetimes.
And humanity has racked up a lot of cosmic frequent flier mileage: “Billions and billions” of space miles in fact, in the numerals so often evoked by the late Carl Sagan.
When I was a kid, we had just three TV channels in most markets, and the closest thing we had to today’s “reality” shows consisted of reality itself, on morning and evening news shows.
That could be why we were all so obsessed with space. It crossed all entertainment genres. It epitomized sports and competition (as in the “space race”). Politics and danger were involved: the Cold War seemed to hinge on whether we could beat the USSR into space with the first orbiting satellite, the first orbiting animal, the first manned flight, the first man on the moon.
And the competition was closer than most remember. Russians were first with Sputnik, and somehow, we as kids were made to feel it was our fault. American school children were not concentrating enough on math and science, we were told. Those of us who loved languages, arts, and social sciences felt guilty, and resolved to try harder.
We paid extra attention when Walt Disney introduced us his hero, rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, guest starring on the Mickey Mouse Club. And we tried to put it in perspective when our relatives muttered about serving in Great Britain during World War II, when Werhner was part of Nazi teams launching rocket bombs at them.
Most of the rocket-hungry, space-obsessed post-war world seemed ready to forgive and forget the past sins of rocket scientists, as long as they were now willing to work for “our team.”
But we also grieved for the Russian’s first dog in space, who did not return, and rejoiced for our monkey who did make it back. (You’ll find a tribute to astronaut monkey Ham at the New Mexico Space History Museum in Alamogordo, where his remains were buried after his 17-year, post-spaceflight residency at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.)
Soon enough, we’d witness the deaths and triumphs of brave human test pilots and astronauts. We would cry with the families of those lost in space, and in dauntless pursuit of ever-evolving technologies.
We all dreamed of being astronauts, in those considerably more racist and sexist times, whatever our sex, creed or color.
And it was a dream that persisted for most of us. I didn’t let go until a few years ago when I watched a too-real documentary of a space mission at the Clyde Tombaugh IMAX Theater. It made camping, which I loathe, seem luxurious: all the inconvenience, claustrophobia and discomfort, along  with added double wallops of looming danger and without the redeeming glories of nature and fresh air. True, the views are out of this world, but I’m content to share the astronaut’s pictures and videos and the unmanned feedback from the likes of Hubble and New Horizons.
Personally, cost aside, I’d just as soon wait until we get to the Star Trek (later generations) phases, before I less boldly go where others have gone before.
And I’m still hoping Spaceport America will soon be able to launch talented poets, writers, musicians, artists and journalists into space. I’m looking forward to their creative reports.
S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at, @derricksonmoore on Twitter and Tout, or call 575-541-5450.

2015: A Space Odyssey
By S. Derrickson Moore
@DerricksonMoore on Twitter
LAS CRUCES >> Welcome to space central.
From early rocket launches by some of the world’s greatest space pioneers to new frontiers of civilian space tourism, it’s all been happening right here, in our territory, and we’re still on the cutting edge.
And we have the space museums and attractions to prove it.
Celebrate our unique past, present and future with spacey summer adventures at six regional attractions that include celestial artifacts and some brand new additions to Spaceport America tours.
Plan a fun-filled marathon tour or a series of easy day trips to explore some of the wonders of New Mexico’s contributions to the ever-evolving space age.
Start with a visit to Spaceport America Experience Visitor Center, 301 S. Foch St. in Truth or Consequences. Attractions in T or C include the Nav Knowledge & Space Medicine exhibit and the Kidspaceport exhibit, which lets kids “create and live out space missions of tomorrow.” The visitor center is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. It’s free.
It’s also the place to catch a “theater shuttle” tour bus to take a guided tour of the $218.5 million site of the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport. En route, the bus offers educational videos about the history of New Mexico and space travel.
The spaceport itself is accessible to the public only through the official tours, which include another visitor and information center in the 110,00-square-foot Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space Building terminal-hangar. Attractions include a dinosaurs-to-the-present historical display, the kid-pleasing G-Shock Simulator and interactive games that let you try your hand at mission control duties, a space debris cleanup, and simulated docking with an orbiting satellite. Magic Planet features a 3-D digital globe and visions of the ways air travel today could be transformed by point-to-point space travel in the future.
Other attractions include Otto Rigan’s behemoth sculpture “Genesis” which welcomes visitors to the 18,000-acre site, future home base for Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo, SpaceX’s Falcon 9R testing and other suborbital launches.
Morning tours depart from the T or C visitor center at 9 a.m. and return by 1 p.m. on Monday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Afternoon tours, from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, are available from May through September. Register at least 24 hours in advance by calling 1-844-727-7223 or online, for a 10 percent savings, at Tours are $44.99, $29.99 for those under 18 and $25 for residents of Sierra and Doña Ana counties.
If you’d like a more extensive space tour, you can join the reported 700 people who have reserved a flight when Virgin Galactic begins commercial service at the spaceport. The inaugural flight list reportedly includes celebrities like Katy Perry, Justin Timberlake and Brad Pitt. The ticket price has escalated from $200,000 to $250,000 since the first intrepid tourists signed up.
Or plan a more down-to-Earth odyssey along our very own southern New Mexico space corridor. Start at the Las Cruces Museum of Nature & Science, 211 N. Main St,, which includes permanent exhibits honoring Las Cruces’ pioneering astronomer Clyde W. Tombaugh, internationally renowned for his discovery of Pluto. Tombaugh also led a team that monitored the skies for objects that could hamper space missions and helped clear the way for successful launches. The museum has periodic exhibitions, programs and special events focusing on space exploration and astronomy, including annual Tombaugh Day events every February.
Continuing on North Main Street as it turns into U.S. 70, within 50 miles from Las Cruces, you’ll find three intriguing institutions: The Space Murals Inc. Museum in Organ, White Sands Missile Range Museum and Missile Park, and the New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo.
Each stop has some unique attractions worthy of spacey selfies and bragging rights, and some have gift shops where you can pick up everything from NASA, WSMR and spaceport T-shirts, and freeze-dried astronaut ice cream to books, posters, toys, games and bumper stickers.
• Space Murals Inc. Museum, in Organ, just east of Las Cruces on U.S. 70, has been dubbed “the people’s space museum,” because “most of the inside displays were put on display by, or on loan from, people who have an interest in the space program,” according to a museum pamphlet.
Since we’re in primo space territory, it’s all worked out very well, and the museum’s eclectic collection of space photos, artifacts and memorabilia puts a very human face on the space race.
The murals circle a 1.2 million gallon water tank, depicting the progress of the U.S. space program from its beginnings to the fatal Challenger accident. It’s a peaceful outdoor setting to relax and reflect on the brave souls who dedicated their lives to space exploration.
Inside, the child-friendly museum has a kid’s corner and some very kid-pleasing gift shop treats.
“The freeze dried astronaut ice cream is still one of our most popular items, along with a new line of T-shirts from NASA and the Smithsonian Institution, and little things like Pluto Plasma and Galactic Ooze, that little kids love,” said Odette Bertolas, museum tour guide.
Other attractions include more than 2,500 photos related to air and space programs, replicas of the Space Station Freedom and space shuttle and model airplanes.
“It’s a great opportunity for the public to see the insiders’ view of what it takes to put together a space program,” Bertolas said.
Admission is free. For information and to arrange guided tours, call 575-382-0977.
• White Sands Missile Range Museum & Missile Park features a park displaying more than 50 missiles and rockets that have been tested at White Sands and periodically adds aircraft to the display, which is open daily from dawn to dusk. Since 1945, WSMR has conducted more than 42,000 missile and rocket firings, tested weapons system and regularly launches scientific research rocket payloads from NASA.
The WSMR Museum offers an eclectic collection with some entertaining surprises, like a Darth Vader mask from the “Star Wars” movie series, ancient pottery, color images of the first atomic bomb test at Trinity Site and  taxidermy specimens of animals found on the WSMR territory.
“We’ve completely revamped our gallery and added new things over the last three years and we’ll be opening a new exhibit on the Vietnam War on Veterans Day,” said Darren Court, the museum’s director and curator and author of a pictorial history of the missile range.
Admission is free. To enter WSMR, you must stop at the visitors’ center and show your driver’s license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance.
The museum is open year-round, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. It’s closed on Sundays and holidays. For information, call 575-678-2250, 575-678-8800, or visit
• New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo offers attractions and activities that should more than fill a day trip and also offers some fun summer evening features.
The museum boasts one of the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of space exhibits and artifacts focusing on everything from Robert Goddard’s early rocket experiments near Roswell to a mock-up of the International Space Station.
The International Space Hall of Fame commemorates the achievements of men and women who have furthered humanity’s exploration of space, including long-term regional residents like Frank F. Borman, who commanded Apollo 8, the first mission to orbit the moon in 1968, and 1972 Apollo 17 astronaut and geologist Harrison H. “Jack” Schmitt, a Silver City native lauded as “the first scientist to walk on the moon.”
You’ll find information honoring Pluto’s discoverer, and special programs in a popular museum campus site named for him: the Clyde W. Tombaugh IMAX Theater, now featuring “Sea Monsters” and “Journey Into Amazing Caves.”
Continuing is the museum’s Summer Drive-In Film Fest with space-themed films at 8 p.m. Saturday nights Aug. 29, and Sept. 12 and Sept. 19. Cost is $10 per car, payable at the gate.
Other attractions include an interactive flight simulator, the museum’s internationally renowned Space Camps for K-12 kids and New Mexico Space Academy educational outreach programs, the outdoor John P. Stapp Air & Space Park and the Astronaut Memorial Garden, a tribute to the space shuttle Challenger and Columbia astronauts.
Admission is $6, $5 for those over 60 and for active and retired military and their dependents, $4 for ages 3 to 12 and free for tots age 3 and under. For information about programs and IMAX schedules, visit
S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at 575-541-5450.

•Spaceport America Visitor Center
When: 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily
Where: 301 S. Foch St., Truth or Consequences
Attractions: Games, exhibits, departure site for Spaceport America tours
How much: Admission is free
Info: 1-844-727-7223,
•Spaceport America Tours
When: 9 a.m.-1 p.m. on Monday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Afternoon tours, from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, available May through September.
Where: Depart from 301 S. Foch St., Truth or Consequences
Highlights: Space and New Mexico history videos en route, facilities tour, interactive games and exhibits
How much: (Register at least 24 hours before tour) $44.99, $29.99 age 18 and under, $25 for residents of Sierra and Doña Ana counties
Info: 1-844-727-7223,

Las Cruces Museum of Nature & Science
When: 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: 411 N. Main St.
Higlights: Interactive planetary globe, exhibits on Pluto discoverer Clyde Tombaugh and his homemade telescopes
How much: Free
Info: 575-522-3120

•Space Murals, Inc. Museum
When: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday
Where: 12450 E. Highway 70, Organ
Highlights: Outdoor murals & displays, exhibits, artifacts, astronaut gallery, space station replica, kids corner, gift shop, free guided tours by appointment.
How much: Admission free
Info: 575-382-0977, e-mail

•White Sands Missile Range Museum and Missile Park White Sands Missile Range Museum and Missile Park at:
When: Museum: 8 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday. Closed holidays. WSMR Missile Park: open dawn to dark daily
Where: East on U.S. 70 about 19 miles from downtown Las Cruces. Turn right at Museum - Missile Park sign, 4 miles to WSMR Main Gate
Highlights: Over 50 missiles and rockets, museum exhibits, gift shop with WSMR caps, shirts, pins and patches, astronaut food, Southwest Indian jewelry and kachinas
How much: Free
Info: 575-678-2250, gift shop 575-678-8800,

•New Mexico Museum of Space History
When: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. every day except Christmas and Thanksgiving
Where:op of Highway 2001, Alamogordo. Take Highway 54/70, turn toward the mountains on Indian Wells Road and drive to the end of the road. At the T-intersection, turn left on Scenic Drive.
Highlights: Exhibits and films, Tombaugh IMAX Theater, interactive exhibits, New Mexico Space Academy, lectures & special events, outdoor park with displays, gift shop
How much: $6 adults, $5 over 60, military-active, retired & dependents, $4 age 4 to 12, free age 3 and under
IMAX Movies: $6 adults, $5.50 over 60 and military, $4.50 age 3 to 12, free age 2 and under
Info, group and combo rates:, 575-437-2840 or 877-333-6589

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