Fw: columns that didn't get posted earlier this month
SANTA FE - Today is Constitution Day. Or did you know that already? Probably not. It's a date that doesn't roll easily off the tongue even though the Constitution has been referred to as the greatest document ever created.
The U.S. Constitution has been copied by many other countries hoping to form a democracy as great as ours. Our founders didn't have anything from which to copy. Theirs was a great experiment by some freedom-loving radicals who hoped to make their grand scheme work.
Their handiwork has lasted well since its creation in 1787. It has changed little since its first 10 amendments were added four years later as the Bill of Rights. It is these rights that perhaps have been the most controversial.
At times we have wondered whether the rights should extend to people who think differently from the way most Americans think. Several years ago New Mexicans were asked in an August survey whether demonstrations at Los Alamos against the use of nuclear weapons should be allowed. The majority of the responses were negative. But the Constitution survived.
Since then, making flag burning unconstitutional has fallen by the wayside despite congressional efforts. Currently we are looking at citizenship rights for children born in the United States of illegal immigrants. This too, likely will pass.
In 1955, Congress decided to establish September 17 as Constitution Day. It decreed that any education institution receiving federal money recognize the day. In 2005 the U.S. Department of education notified all schools that they must include the Constitution their curriculum on that day.
Back when I taught fifth grade in the early 1960s, textbook companies included the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence in the back of the American history book. They don't anymore.
As a result, many Lions clubs in this part of the country began providing free pocket-sized copies of those two documents to school children, especially at the fifth grade level, where American history usually is taught.
It has been a popular program. Private donations are collected for the printing of pocket-sized booklets containing the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. They are distributed free of charge in many districts throughout the state.
Sometimes teachers noticed the booklets being discarded so Lions began asking public officials to go to schools to speak on the day the booklets are distributed.
When Lt. Gov. Walter Bradley served during the administration of Gov. Gary Johnson, he led the effort as a member of the Clovis Lions. He noted that students had an additional reason to value the booklets. Walter even autographed some copies.
Last year, Attorney General Gary King took a lead on Constitution Day issuing press releases and speaking to fifth grade classes in Albuquerque.
The September 17 date has proved to be somewhat of a problem in many schools. It falls too soon after school has started, so is subject to many distractions
For that reason, Lions decided to change their date for recognizing the Constitution to March 16, the birthday of James Madison, often referred to as the father of the Constitution. March seems to be a time of fewer distractions and the point when textbooks get around to the American Revolution. The Lions named March 16 Liberty Day.
By the year 2000, Liberty Day grew to a nationwide effort and March 16 was recognized by Congress as Liberty Day. Lions didn't ask Congress to mandate study of the Constitution on March 16 but it's not a bad idea. Most Lions clubs are glad to provide materials to schools requesting them on either day.
Many school classes visit the Legislature while it is in session. Some teachers organize their classes to track down legislators from their part of the state and quiz them about the Constitution. It's a lot more fun than sitting in the gallery watching what are usually rather monotonous proceedings.
SANTA FE - It appears New Mexico is winning the space race. Some good things have been happening lately.
First, President Barack Obama announced a new mission for NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. NASA will concentrate on deep space exploration while relying on the private sector to handle near-Earth missions.
That is exactly what New Mexico's Spaceport America wanted to hear. It will get help with programs to send rich folks to the edge of space. In addition, Sen. Tom Udall and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan have gotten a $75 million program to purchase some of these sub-orbital flights for scientific research purposes.
Rick Homans, executive director of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority, compares the appropriation to the help given the fledgling airplane industry without which it couldn't have survived its early days.
Homans says the program, called CRuSR, will benefit many companies that use the spaceport or have expressed interest in doing so. These companies include, UPAerospace, Virgin Galactic, XCOR Aerospace, Masten Space Systems and Armadillo Aerospace.
Another boost to Spaceport America, which reportedly is constructing launch facilities at Rockwall, TX, plans to launch three NASA-funded tests of its vertical takeoff and landing rocket technology.
Neil Milburn, a vice president of Armadillo, says Spaceport America was chosen because of its geographical advantages, dedicated staff, technical experience, flexibility and low cost. It sounds like the folks down at the spaceport are doing one heckuva job.
New Mexico appears to be cashing in on its space-related assets from our national labs, universities, White Sands Missile Range and NASA White Sands Test Facility. We offer the perfect venues for research, development and operation of new space technology.
And we're taking advantage of it. New Mexico State University in Las Cruces has been tapped by the Federal Aviation Administration to lead a newly former Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation.
NMSU will team with seven other universities to conduct research in several different areas, including space launch operations, traffic management and the laws, policies and regulations that may govern space commerce. Industry partners include SpaceX, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.
In 2004, when Virgin Galactic teamed with Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites to fly to the edge of space, Congress passed legislation providing the framework for how the FAA can regulate commercial human space flights. The idea was to help the space industry flourish without too much government interference.
The FAA admits that if all the regulations currently imposed on the airline industry would have been imposed on the Wright brothers, they never would have gotten in the air. But it will be necessary to figure how airplanes and commercial rockets can co-exist in the same space as safely as possible.
The New Mexico Legislature already has taken initial steps in this direction to ensure that space tourists recognize the risks inherent in space flight and that they must undergo basic training. Already researchers are pushing the envelope looking for ways to get the elderly and people with chronic illnesses into space.
It may be that Gov. Bill Richardson's most lasting legacy will be his initiative to get New Mexico into the space race. We took some baby steps back in the early 1990s, under Gov. Bruce King and realized the interest is there.
But then a combination of the industry not moving as quickly as anticipated and the unwillingness of Gov. Gary Johnson to spend any money put space issues on a back burner. Gov. Richardson has brought the space race back to front and center at what appears to be the ideal time to be out in front of our competitors.
Our spaceport suffered a temporary setback when the former executive director suddenly had to resign. But current director Rick Homans was in that position when the Richardson administration got the program back off the ground and could step in without missing a beat.