Thursday, December 15, 2005

The soaring dream of flight

It's official! Virgin Galactic has put pen to paper to help develop the New Mexico Spaceport, right in our own back yard. The goal is to have the Spaceport functional with commercial spaceflights operational three years or so from now. Three years!

Many times, I've wondered whether moving away from Charlottesville, ranked one of the best places to raise a child in the nation, to Las Cruces, in one of the worst-educated states in the nation, will start my son's life off with a disadvantage he may never recover from. But this news brings with it some real optimism for the future for me. The influx of high-tech corporations will bring high-end jobs, and by extension, good educational opportunities. The tax and tourism revenues will give New Mexico, one of the poorest states in the nation, a much-needed shot in the arm to develop its infrastructure, educational and otherwise. And my son is going to grow up in a community that actively embraces mathematics, engineering, astronomy, and all the other disciplines that go into space flight. All of these things could drastically improve his educational experience as he grows up here.

But more importantly, he will grow up in a community that celebrates the courageous vision of space flight and the steadfast diligence of science. He's going to grow up watching spacecraft shrug off the shackles of gravity and crawl their way up into the bright New Mexico sky on plumes of fire. And he might even one day ride one of those craft into the weightless mantle of space, look down on the shining face of Earth, and experience that magnificent moment of awe that so far only a handful of brave men and women have experienced.

I believe there's value being close to the space program, even for a child. Especially for a child. We have so few things in this world that represent the fundamental dreams of humanity, that transcend the nasty politics and gruesome wars we wage on the surface of this rock, and which open onto such expansive and pristine vistas of exploration. Having the core of space flight so close may give my son the one thing more valuable than an education: something meaningful to apply it to.

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