Monday, October 10, 2005

X Prize Cup

Demonstration rocket at the X-Prize CupOne of the coolest things about living in New Mexico is that we've got the X Prize Cup, the civilian spaceflight competition. With wide blue skies, mild weather, high visibility, and wide open spaces, New Mexico is perfect for pioneering spacecraft, and as plans for the New Mexico Spaceport get underway, the talent, the industry, and the excitement of space travel are really starting to build.

Few things exemplify the scientific achievement, the teamwork, the vision, and the courage of humanity like the space program. The yearning to reach out and touch the stars has been the dream of people since the beginning of recorded history, but only recently have we managed to make space flight a reality. But look how far we have come in such a short time! We have put a rover on Mars that let us explore the red planet. We have sent a probe to the furthest planets to gather and send back spectacular photos and scientific data. We have built massive radio telescopes that can see so far that they can take pictures of the origin of our universe. We have walked on the moon.

America is hurting nowadays. We have suffered multiple disasters, our culture is increasingly divided, and we are disillusioned with our leaders. A pallor of mundanity and helplessness is settling over our country as our thoughts turn to economics, war, and tragedy.

And yet, there we were, out in the middle of the desert, thousands of people from all across the country, with rockets, cameras, and fingers pointed up into the blue sky to share the promise of space flight.

I stood on the pavement in the warm Las Cruces sun, holding my young son in my arms, and watched as a rocket-propelled aircraft took off only a few hundred yards from us. As I watched that plane roar by us and climb gracefully into the sky, I couldn't help but smile from all the butterflies. And as I pointed at the wheeling white dot in the sky, my son was pointing at it too.

It was breaking a world record that day, for it had flown before not two hours earlier. Until today, no one had been able to reuse a rocket that soon. Why is that important? Because if space travel is ever going to be more than the realm of the select few we choose to carry our dreams to the heavens for us, rockets need to be quickly reusable. Today's achievement was a step towards my son growing up in a world where space travel is an opportunity that is within reach.

I will never go into space, never feel the crush of acceleration to escape Earth's pull, never feel the buoyant high of zero gravity. But maybe my son will. Someday, maybe, my son will look out a window and see the round, glowing horizon of Earth floating below him and feel the exhilaration I will never feel.

To fly is a dream we all understand, even the youngest among us. That's why these efforts are worth supporting.

To see photos of the X Prize Cup, visit my flickr album.

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