Most of us are fascinated by the stars but “space” well that’s a different deal. What’s space- isn’t it all around us?
Well for the purpose of this column, air is all around us, space is 62 miles straight up. If a vehicle wants to get to space it travels through air, or the atmosphere, then gets to space where there is no atmosphere.
I agreed to write a column on “space” for the Sun News. Not for pay but for Querencia – as Derrickson Moore recently wrote, Querencia is a word describing a connection between a person and a place. That’s what this column will be about, our connections to a “Place called Space”. The purpose of the column is to inform and thereby help us realize the space industry in New Mexico is as much our heritage as is the chile industry. In 1989 I went to work at New Mexico State University for NASA eventually directing the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium. In my role as Space Grant Director, I have been involved in what is now Spaceport America since 1991.
New Mexico has a long heritage in the government space industry. We are now connecting our current space capabilities to help grow the commercial space industry. It’s coming and that’s what I will be talking about. The commercial, not the government, space industry coming to New Mexico.
Robert Goddard patented the liquid fuel rocket in Roswell, New Mexico. The liquid fueled rocket is the technology that, in part, allowed the Saturn 5 to take us to the moon. By us, I mean Americans. We were the first and so far the only humans to walk on the moon. The space program began in New Mexico. The first rocket to reach space flew from White Sands Proving Grounds in 1948.
Here’s a question for New Mexicans? What if Roy Nakayama, world renowned chile breeder, conducted his chile research at the Land Grant university, Texas A&M, instead of at New Mexico State University – the Land Grant university in New Mexico? The industry that has grown up in New Mexico might have developed in College Station, Texas. The chile industry in New Mexico employees over 2,000 New Mexicans, we produce the most chile of any state in the nation. Chile research is one example of how a research university is essential to the economic viability of a state.
Robert Goddard did not have a Land Grant or Space Grant University to help him perfect his technology to the point where he could commercialize it. Land Grant and Space Grant universities fund research that leads to economic development, new business, in their states. New Mexico State University is part of the Land Grant and Space Grant system that drives innovation in our country. Research universities also develop the business leaders of our nation.
It was Goddard’s research that Werner Von Braun used to develop the V2 rocket. Von Braun came to New Mexico because his friend Goddard came from here and wrote about New Mexico. Von Braun was also a visionary businessman. The V2 rocket program, and the resulting Inter-continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) manufacturing program led to the space industry. Von Braun left New Mexico in 1952 and went to Huntsville, Alabama. Why? Because Huntsville’s business leaders had the vision Von Braun had for the space industry. They recruited Werner Von Braun to Huntsville and he went and took the space industry with him. There are just under 140,000 jobs in aerospace in Alabama.
Good news! New Mexico has a second chance. The commercial spaceflight industry is coming to New Mexico. Spaceport America and the Virgin Galactic spaceflight system are two years away from full operation. There is a great opportunity for our community to join our business and educational capabilities to create a new space economy. Virgin Galactic came to New Mexico because we recruited them. Hard. Have we learned our lesson? If we decide this time we will keep the industry here, involve the best and brightest in our community to figure out where the win for everyone is, we will continue our leadership. It is our heritage in New Mexico- chile, space, Querencia!