Personal Spaceflight Symposium Launches The Event
by Aero-News Senior Correspondent Kevin R.C. "Hognose"
The events of Day Two, as previously recounted here,
mostly took place in the New Mexico Museum of Space History in
Alamogordo, NM. The museum and the X-Prize Foundation billed this
"X-Prize Education Day," and it was a chance for kids to see --
and, here is the cunning bit, be inspired by -- all kinds of space
But as we left your humble correspondent in the first part of
this tale, he was stuck in a Las Cruces hotel room, while Jim was
tied up with a rocket operation that was intending to, er,
One thing and another led the timeline to slip both outside the
regulatory permitted window (hint: LOX wasn't pumped in an instant)
and our schedule for catching the Alamogordo presser. Then, the
exhibitor had a problem, scrubbed what he was doing, and threw out
all the press. Jim left to come get me -- Alamogordo or bust!
Eh, bust. Or rather,
not bust -- Jim's phone rang. Things were suddenly back on in Las
Cruces. We did a 180 like a student pilot with a windscreen full of
CBs and pointed the rental car (and this old soldier wants to know
who got the bright idea of naming a car "KIA"?) towards the airport
and the hardstand where -- wonderful things happened, and we were
promptly embargoed from telling you about them. Sorry about that
(Jim will try to get the embargo lifted tonight).
The head of another rocket operation showed up, and opened up in
friendly brotherhood about the state of his project, which is
generally good, and the path of how he got there, which is
torturous, and why he gets his stainless steel machining done
locally instead of with the foreign guy he started with.
The two sides compared technical problems and were trying to
sell each other engines when we left. The small rocket engine
market is very peculiar: there are really only a few guys in the
USA who can do this credibly; and everybody wants engines like
this. But there never seems to be any money to buy them, so a young
person -- mostly young men -- joining the space revolution today
is, knowingly or not, taking a vow of poverty no less binding than
that of a friar.
Of course, both find a spiritual uplift in the journey that
brought them to the vow.
But, enough metaphysics, it's time to go to Alamogordo, where
the museum stands high on a hill. The road there speaks of space,
and not just the wide-open Western kind: we go by a NASA engine
testing site, White Sands Missile Range, and Holloman AFB. Near
White Sands, a missile looms up out of the desert, a Nike-Hercules
that once guarded American cities from nuclear attack, now a
display, placed in a mountain pass so that you come on it suddenly.
Was I quick enough with the camera?
As we are approaching Holloman, the unmistakable shape of an
F-117A flashes overhead, with a T-38 as close as is comfortable.
Once again the fine skills of photography (or the tiny subset of
them of which I claim mastery) are subordinated to an ability to
point and shoot. The camera's autofocus goes west. The arrowhead
shape obligingly banks back towards us.
Fortunately, we're friendlies, and he's probably on a test
flight of some kind -- otherwise our Kia would be KIA for sure.
Having been allowed to live -- for today -- by the Air
Force, we get to the Museum to fins the usual Officer Jobsworth
forbidding us to go in. We show him our press passes. "You can't be
We can't convince him we are. "The press already came. You can
park here and walk up."
"I'm a photographer, I have a ton of gear," Jim says, hoping for
some sympathy. "Oh, that's OK then. Go and get your gear," the cop
I guess we were not the droids he was looking for.
We arrive to find 1,000 kids swirling over the museum grounds.
There is more here than you can see in the hours they have, and to
my pleasant surprise, few of the kids seem bored or jaded. They
actually look excited. "Maybe one of you will be an astronaut. Or
an engineer that designs spaceships."
"This is way cooler than cars," one young fellow says. Although
after some reflection, he adds, "But they're pretty cool." Hey kid,
don't fall behind in math, and you'll be one of the guys the kids
of 2050 are looking up to. Is that way cooler than cars or
Erik Lindbergh is wandering around with that
flying-in-Rocket-Racing-League grin still on his face. Erik's
artist's eye is admiring the museum itself. "Just look at that
building!" The copper reflective glass is particularly striking.
From some angles, it reflects the ground, or the missiles in the
external park. From others, it reflects the sky.
Along with the Museum's own display of rockets: everything from
a rusted-out V-2 tail section (one of the 64 V-2s fired at White
Sands from 1946 to 1952) to the comical-looking Little Joe that was
used in Apollo escape gantry tests, there was a Canadian Arrow on
its transporter-erector, raised halfway to an artistic angle. The
PlanetSpace Corporation announced that they were donating one to
the White Sands museum to serve as a V-2 -- after it had flown in
space (see separate story).
That's pretty cool. The world supply of V-2s is running low --
the ones that weren't shot at London or Antwerp or dynamited into
eternal entombment in the bowels of the Harz Mountains, were fired
off on American or Soviet test ranges in the immediate postwar era.
Nobody thought about saving them for museums. When you're working
with the latest technology, it's hard to think of it as a potential
Someone has been applying himself to engaging kids. There's a
Mercury capsule mockup that's set up with stairs to let little
people try on Alan Shepard's and John Glenn's historic ride. The
instrument mockups are sealed behind plexiglass and the floor has a
rubber mat -- so they don't try it on too hard.
There are planetariums, an IMAX show (the museum includes an
IMAX theater), and activities of all kinds. Some of the kids --
local honor students -- have camped out at the museum overnight;
others have been bused from their schools. "For some students," the
X-Prize Foundation says, "this will be the day that launches them
on a new trajectory...."
"See that mountain?" one of the volunteers said. "Do you
remember the rocket sled pictures in the museum?" A bunch of kids
sure did. "Well, that rocket sled track is just on the other side
of that mountain."
"Wow. It's right here," one of the kids said, eyes wide. The
opposite of not imagining your here-and-now tech in museums, these
kids hadn't grasped the museum displays in the here-and-now, until
that volunteer made the connection. If this were a cartoon, the
light bulb would have appeared at that moment.
Large, colorful balloons are tethered on the grounds -- one is a
globe, Earth as the blue marble, the famous Apollo 8 shot.
The other reminds us that all we have done so far and plan to do
immediately is just the first step in our space journey: it's a
globe of Mars.
"That's nothing," an entrepreneur from Seattle says, "look at
mine." And his globe, which is on display down the hill, is made
from a photomosaic of NASA satellite images. Now that's cool. On
his globe, children can -- and do -- find their home towns.
And the entrepreneurs, the dreamers, the space buffs were out in
force -- their wide-eyed wonder quotients little removed from the
children's. Many of the commercial space elite were here, but there
were also guys like the one-armed man in a T-shirt with red letters
saying, "Why, yes, as a matter of fact. I AM a rocket scientist."
He told me his name was Bandit. He then had to explain the joke
(ouch). His son, in an identical shirt, was one of the volunteers
teaching kids model rocketry (more on that in a separate story). in
his day gig, Bandit Gangwere does mission critical embedded systems
for demanding customers (like NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory,
which manages interplanetary robotic missions). In his spare time,
he designs model rockets.
And there was Johnny Blue Star -- a former children's TV series
hero, Johnny is a member of a new media company, Rockets Away!,
that's focused entirely on commercial space. They're pitching
investors now for a documentary that's about to begin shooting.
Inside the museum, the chaos that came with 1,000 kids is
winding down as a group of distinctly older visitors enjoy the
exhibits. I wish I had more time, as I look at three exhibits and
learn four things -- along with the usual suspects like models and
space suits, there's an Apollo fuel cell (of Apollo 13 fame) and
many other unique things. One of my favorites was the Soviet
"Forel" suit, designed to be used only if a Soyuz or Salyut capsule
landed in water (as Russians have always recovered their
capsules on land, this was an emergency. "Forel" in Russian means
Friday, the museum was closed to the public. Saturday is the
X-Prize Cup Public Day at the Museum, with many of the activities
and special exhibits that thrilled the kids today available to the
space-minded of all ages.