Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

10-14 X Prize Events a Success

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- All the participants in the X Prize events in southern New Mexico last week say they are happy with the way things turned out.
Dr. Peter Diamandis, founder of the X Prize race into space, announced that he is pleased that New Mexico was chosen as the site for X Prize competitions. He praised state and local government officials for their enthusiastic backing and expressed delight over the size of the crowd at the Sunday event in Las Cruces.
Officials with the state and with the X Prize Foundation had been cautious about predicting a big crowd for the afternoon's display and demonstration of future space vehicles. But the estimated 20,000 turnout had everyone in high spirits.
Perhaps most importantly, the companies that are in the race to get the first passengers into space, said they were pleased with the organization of the event and the size of the crowd. Those are the companies that New Mexico is trying to attract to the state.
The only downside of the event was the wind. One of our occasional fall storms blew through the state that weekend. The rain came the night before, and trailing winds disrupted a few activities.
Skydivers, who were to descend on the airport for the high noon opening ceremony, landed 10 miles away in a Wal-Mart parking lot. But the only space-related activity that was affected was a vertical rocket liftoff.
Temperatures were pleasant and a tightly planned five hours of demonstrations, presentations and film packages came off with almost no hitches. It was a very professional job and one that is sure to bring even more participants and spectators next year.
Not all companies in the private race to space participated. Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites, which won last year's $10 million X Prize by flying to the edge of space twice within two weeks was a no-show.
Of course, Rutan has nothing to prove. He's two or three years ahead of the pack, thanks to his ingenuity and sometimes Santa Fean Paul Allen's money.
Allen plunked down $20 million to finance the entire operation. The $10 million prize was distributed among employees. Think about that, you budding young scientists and engineers.
Many did think about that. On Friday, the New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo hosted nearly 1,000 fifth-graders from across southern New Mexico for an education day.
Tents and trailers in the museum's parking lot provided exhibits and hands-on space activities. If the students' enthusiasm was anywhere near their energy level, many of them will go into space.
My compliments to museum officials who chose to invite fifth graders. Forty years ago, I chose to teach fifth grade because I felt 10-year-olds were at the best age to learn. And I haven't changed my mind.
Working backwards, on Thursday, the X Prize Foundation and New Mexico State University presented The First International Symposium for Personal Spaceflight.
It was a day for representatives from over 20 companies interested in getting passengers into space to interact with each other and with representatives of NMSU and governmental agencies.
There were no competitive events this year. Next year may see some, and definitely, say X Prize officials, there will be races of all sorts by 2007, when New Mexico's Southwest Regional Spaceport will be licensed and ready for business.
Attendees at last week's events saw history in the making. As with Dr. Robert Goddard's personal rocketry experiments at Roswell in the 1930s and White Sands Proving Grounds' entry into government-financed rocket science, the effort to get you and me into space is also starting right here in the Land of Enchantment.
Representatives from Virgin Galactic told us they will be flying Rutan's plane into space with passengers by 2007. Tickets will be $200,000, but Armadillo Aerospace said it won't be far behind -- for only $10,000 a trip. Get ready to strap in.
FRI, 10-14-05

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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