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Each year around this time

I think about the space shuttle Columbia disaster and about some things astronaut Michael Anderson said near the end of this story, which ran before his first space shuttle flight five years earlier.


Touring Spaceport America

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)  

   Standing under a blazing sun, on a wide, pristine, concrete runway shooting like an arrow across the high New Mexico desert, it occurred to me that so often travel is about visiting a place where something big happened in the past. Where, in some subtle or dramatic way, the world changed forever.  It’s not often that you get there first. That you get a chance to stand where big things are going to happen, before history is made.

   But now, 55 miles out of Las Cruces, New Mexico, another 30 miles beyond Truth or Consequences, a quirky little town so keen for a place on the big map it took the name of a television game show;  on 18,000 acres of land adjacent to the White Sands Missile Range, country as wide and empty as anything can be, Spaceport America, the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport, is taking shape on the dry desert landscape.

   There are organized tours to the remote location and I jumped at the chance to join one. On the way we rode past the Elephant Butte Dam, the 1919 monolith that tamed the wild Rio Grande River and we traveled along the El Camino Real, the Royal Road that connected the region to Mexico City, the path by which explorers and settlers came to the land that would become New Mexico.

   At Spaceport America, two buildings are already constructed. We toured Virgin Galactic’s “Gateway to Space” terminal and hangar, and the SOC, Space Port Operations Center. The Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo will carry commercial passengers who will pay for the two to three-hour flight into suborbital space. The first flight is projected to take off in late 2013, carrying Sir Richard Branson and his two adult children. After that the more than 500 people who have reserved seats on the $200,000 flights will get their turn. It will be possible to watch these flights from the terminal.

   Having grown up with the space race, watching flicking television images of serious-faced men in white shirts and thin black ties smile and shake hands and pat one another on the back after each successful rocket launch, and having raised four children, all of whom developed a keen interest in space during the Shuttle years—two of my daughters are Space Camp alumnae—I find it all fascinating. Fascinating enough to take a drive through the desert to a place where, according to the Spaceport America promotional materials, in addition to scientific missions and small satellites, tourists will be the next space payload.

   Like the others on the tour, I posed for a photo on the “spaceway,” the runway that will launch this new space age. Who knows? Maybe one of my children or even a grandchild will be a space tourist. By that time prices will have come down and the trip, while still a form of luxury travel, will be routine. But I can always show them the photo of me standing in the New Mexico desert, laughing, my arms outstretched like wings, as proof that once upon a time, I got there first.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a Spokane-based travel writer. Her essays can be heard each week on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com


Remembering…shared space

It was 26 years ago today the space shuttle Challenger blew up. My cousins work at Kennedy Space Center and tell stories of ushering astronauts’ family members into a room to explain what they had just witnessed: their lives destroyed by a NASA disaster.

On that same day my husband and I flew to Minnesota where he would receive state-of –the art treatment for his stage 2 cancer. When a friend arrived to drive us to the airport, she could only gasp, “Isn’t it awful?! They’re all dead!” Not having heard, she had to tell us about the Challenger.

It made perfect sense to us – our world, too, was exploding with a health disaster and to try to live normally, made no sense. When a grocery store clerk in Minnesota said to me, ”Have a nice day!” I wanted to scream at her.

We share our public disasters within our community: a community of neighbors, a state or a nation – such as 9/11. But each day so many people carry grief and fear from their own personal disasters and tragedies. Many of these people and their pain go unnoticed or dismissed.

At Mass tonight we were reminded of how to care for each other: Show up, slow down, breatheeeeeee, pay attention, and love the best you can. When we do, we can walk with each other in times of challenge.

(S-R archives photo)

How ‘bout we park that Shuttle in Seattle?

OLYMPIA — The Museum of Flight tried very hard to get one of the nation's Space Shuttles earlier this year when NASA got out of the shuttle business. NASA eventually said no to Seattle and bunches of other cities that covet one of the space ships, and yes to New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

Now it seems that New York is changing some of its plans for housing the shuttle Endeavour, which is going to create some delays for NASA getting rid of it.

In an effort to help NASA and New York City out, Gov. Chris Gregoire is suggesting the space agency send either Endeavour or Enterprise, which technically belongs to L.A. but isn't there yet, to the Museum of Flight.

Just temporarily, of course, Gregoire said. Just until NYC or LA museums get their act together and build structures worthy of "these priceless artifacts." The Museum of Flight has the perfect spot to put them for now.

Washington state isn't the only place angling for temporary housing for the shuttles. Dayton, Ohio, was pretty steamed when it didn't land one for the U.S. Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. And Houston was similarly p.o'd when Mission Control only got a mockup. Politicians for those to spots have suggested taking Endeavour away from New York City and giving it to their facility.

Gregoire's letter to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden describes the Museum of Flight's offer as an interim plan. But let's face it. Once NASA parks one of those 165,000 pound birds some place, it could be there for a very long time.

APhoto Of The Day — 7.8.11

Kiegan Lynch of Greenville, S.C., sits buried in the sand up to his chest in Cocoa Beach, Fla., this morning. Lynch and his family traveled from South Carolina to view the launch of the space shuttle Atlantis, the final shuttle mission. You write the cutline. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

Top Cutlines:

  • 1. When I grow up, my parents debt will have me buried up to my neck — CoeurGenX.
  • 2. The 2012 campaign season is apparently under way as Tea Party supporters have begun burying their opponents in mud — Nic.
  • 3. Kiegan thinks he can add more sand if only they would raise the debt ceiling — Kiegan.

Shuttle Launches For Final Time

The space shuttle Atlantis lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center Friday in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Atlantis is the 135th and final space shuttle launch for NASA. Story here. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Question: Have you ever seen a space launch?

Shuttle’s Final Flight Today

NASA’s final four shuttle astronauts boarded Atlantis for liftoff today on the last flight of the 30-year program, even as potential rainstorms threatened to delay the launch. Forecasters stuck to their original 70 percent chance of bad weather, as the veteran crew climbed aboard the spacecraft. NASA was hopeful. “We do have a shot at this today,” launch director Mike Leinbach assured his team. Commander Christopher Ferguson gave a thumbs up as he was strapped in after sunrise despite the still-iffy launch prospects. On his way to the spacecraft, Ferguson had jokingly beckoned for more applause, clapping his hands at one point. The astronauts posed for pictures before boarding/Associated Press. More here. (AP photo: The space shuttle Atlantis astronauts leave the operations and check out building on their way to the pad at the Kennedy Space Center this morning.)

Question: Do you agree with the decision to end the shuttle program?

To Boldly Go

No thanks. I’m horribly claustrophobic. You know the yellow submarine at Disneyland? Can’t do it. The thought of shooting into the atmosphere in a tiny cylinder with no quick trip home makes me woozy. And the beverage service sucks.

Yet Bent says, “As for drinking recycled urine, heck I would drink my dog’s urine straight if they would let me fly space shuttle into space!” If you didn’t have to drink Bent’s dog’s urine, would you boldly go?