It took courage and leadership for Dan Hicks and his team to carry off the first Spaceport America Cup. Leadership, because if anything went wrong, Mr. Hicks is the one wringable neck. Courage because of the complexity of the tasks to be carried out.
When you have students of all ages involved with explosives, think about it for about a second and just say no. It would have been simple; no one would have known. Prior to Mr. Hicks, the previous director said no many times. Now you can see what I mean about his leadership.
We have a highly qualified spaceport executive director, with thousands of launches under his belt. He learned how to run a launch site from one of the most difficult customers there is, the Department of Defense. And now his is on the other side of the mountain. This is the reason we established the spaceport, to do what Mr. Hicks and his team did. Bring the citizens of New Mexico and the world to this exciting industry. He brought the world right to our doorstep and then he let them in. Yes, it was hot. But our community was on fire that week creating a spectacular welcome for the teams.
Likely everyone will do more next year. That includes New Mexico Space Grant Consortium. We were caught flat-footed. New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology and NMSU students have competed in rocket building competitions. We have supported the teams, but none were entered into the EZRA competition. It takes time to build the teams, raise the money and get the rocket into competitive shape. New Mexico Tech has flown from the spaceport to test their rocket. We will provide more support to the spaceport team. Southwestern Polytechnic Institute has a rocket building team, but they were not ready either. We have teams at NMSU and from Roswell who could enter the payload competition. Next year we will be ready.
There weren’t any New Mexico schools who competed this year. There was a span of eight years where we never failed to launch student experiments. Mr. Hicks spoke at my launch in 2012, we had over 800 people, and 63 school teams whose experiments went to space that year from the spaceport. It was the previous director’s first launch. She had never seen anything like what we did. And it was the last large launch event for science and technology students until the Cup. She did not want people to think we built the spaceport to shoot model rockets, so she made it very difficult for us to do what Mr. Hicks did. Only his task was much harder. Leadership is so important in any endeavor. Good leaders make progress, create opportunity, and collaborations.
That is a hallmark of success. We have NASA White Sands Test Facility, White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico State University and New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology all within an hour and a half. We have the second largest school district in the state. We have great skill in our community and now, we have an event to bring our skills out into the open for the world to observe. Ask yourselves as we send small rockets into the sky during the Fourth of July, what could I do to help our students learn why these things fly?
Well done Spaceport America team, Virgin Galactic, Jacobs, Hotel Encanto and all the other community supporters. Well done. Let’s grow this event into the Burning Man of Rocketry. The world is ready and so are we.
Pat Hynes works at New Mexico State University for NASA directing the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium. She can be reached at 575-646-6414 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.