Thursday, February 25, 2016

Spaceport America

This morning we got together with fellow workampers Cindy and Cathy to visit Spaceport America.  Bob and I really did not know what to expect; we drove to the town of Truth or Consequences and got on a shuttle at the Spaceport America Visitors Center. There were 14 of us on the shuttle plus a driver and our tour guide, Mark. We started off for the one hour drive to the facility.                          
Within a few minutes into the drive, a family of javelinas was spotted. I have been hoping to catch a glimpse of some so I was pretty thrilled. Ugly little creatures, but very cool.
We drove past the Elephant Butte Dam, built 100 years ago. At the time it was one of the largest dams in the world, second in size only to the Aswan Dam. The Dam controls the waters of the Rio Grande.
The scenery along the way was stark, yet lovely in a desert-kind-of-way, and we watched several videos of the history of this region. Mark was very knowledgeable about the area and its background, entertaining us with stories of the past. We also learned that Ted Turner has invested heavily in Spaceport America, and through Ted Turner Expeditions has built a hotel in T or C to house its guests.
We arrived at Spaceport America and finally caught a glimpse of the iconic building. We learned that SA is the world's first purpose-built commercial spaceport. What that means is that it is intended to be used by companies around the world for such purposes as sending researchers, tourists, and satellites into space. They have partnered with builders of spacecraft, so if a company wants to send satellites into space they can just purchase one and use SA facilities to launch it.
The spaceport is located in the Jornada del Muerto desert basin, which is Spanish for Journey of Death. This refers to this section of the Camino Real that connected Mexico to Northern New Mexico in the time of the Conquistadors. It is ideally situated for SA because of its isolation and low population, the almost-constant clear weather, the elevation and the southern location which is fairly close to the Equator, compared to the rest of the US.
Bob and I posed for a photo outside the hangar.
Inside, there is a huge window overlooking a massive work space, where a model of the Virgin Galactic's special plane that is capable of traveling to space. SpaceX, UP Aerospace, and ARmadillo Aerospace have used Spaceport America's facilities. We were a bit disappointed not to see a real space ship, but it was not to be.

There was a G-forces machine that visitors were welcome to try. Because of my back and neck issues I was not able to, but our Cindy did it! We were all impressed.

My bit of excitement came when I used the rest room and came out to find the space center completely empty. Our group had left to get back on the shuttle and no one noticed I wasn't with them. And there was a keypad on the door with an alarm that sounded when I tried to open it. I called Bob and he had the bus driver spring me from the spaceport. The tour guide said that was a first for him. It certainly was for me, too.
From the hangar area we went to another building that houses the emergency response equipment.  SA maintains an active firefighter and emergency response team, and we were able to talk with emergency personnel and go inside the vehicles. These teams are important in case there is a problem during launch or landing, and they train almost constantly for any situation.

We returned to town, watching more videos about the future of commercial space travel and the important role of Spaceport America in the launching of satellites and the future of America. It was a fascinating day!

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