SPEND TIME IN NEW MEX­ICO

GQ (Australia) - - THE INDEPENDENT BROTHER -

Five months later, Alan Shep­ard re­peated the mis­sion, mi­nus the ba­nana pel­lets. Ham lived out the rest of his life in zoos. When he died, his re­mains came to Alam­ogordo. You lead Amer­ica into space and they bury you in a park­ing lot. Well, most of you. Af­ter he died at that zoo, the idea was to do an au­topsy on Ham, then stuff his hide and put him on dis­play in a mu­seum. That was the plan, un­til word leaked out. Peo­ple felt this was a bit too undig­ni­fied for our first space hero (or maybe a bit too Soviet – it’s what the USSR did to Strelka, one of nine dogs they sent into or­bit). So the gov­ern­ment aban­doned its plan for a stuff ’n’ show. It was de­cided Ham’s re­mains would get a proper burial – mi­nus his skele­ton. Once a sci­ence spec­i­men, al­ways a sci­ence spec­i­men. His flesh was de­tached from his bones and his re­mains were sent to New Mex­ico. Ham’s skele­ton lives on, as it were, in a drawer at the Na­tional Mu­seum of Health and Medicine. You are a pi­o­neer. A trail­blazer for the space age. And what glory is yours? Noth­ing. You end up a shell of your for­mer chimp self. Just west of the mu­seum is White Sands Mis­sile Range, the se­cret-ish US mil­i­tary base where von Braun and his new em­ploy­ers tested all those cap­tured V-2s. Ever since, the place has been where the US has tested rock­ets, from Pa­triot Mis­siles to nukede­liv­ery ve­hi­cles to Star Wars de­fence sys­tems. There’s a small ‘ex­hibit’ just in­side the heav­ily guarded gate of the base, and af­ter the sentry spends 10 min­utes run­ning a back­ground check on my driver’s li­cence, I’m waved in­side – “OK, New York, you’re good.” The ex­hibit is a history (of sorts) of Amer­i­can rock­etry since World War II; a great­est hits, I guess, of Amer­ica’s first space age. Dozens of de­com­mis­sioned mis­siles jut up out of the hard desert ground at steep an­gles, mim­ick­ing a mo­ment in launch. It looks like an avant-garde art in­stal­la­tion for pro­jec­tiles. And as I wan­der through, I try to look at the plaques that seem to be placed in front of each mis­sile. But the plaques are miss­ing. There are metal frames, but they’re empty. Fifty or so mis­siles, and I can’t find one that has a name or a cap­tion any­where. All I’m left with is a smat­ter­ing of rock­ets with­out con­text. Space. A funny thing. A place of no con­text that we have to give con­text. and you start to hear about the two space ages. The first is all God­dard and von Braun and big, lum­ber­ing, one-off rock­ets the size of sky­scrapers that are built by big gov­ern­ment and the mil­i­tary-in­dus­trial com­plex for hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars so we can send a tiny group of hu­mans to the moon. The sec­ond space age is all about you. And it’s all about some­thing you hear a lot these days – that the “bar­rier to en­try” is now low enough that soon, to para­phrase El­wood Blues, you, me, them, ev­ery­body will get to space. Tours to the sec­ond age start at the town of Truth or Con­se­quences. At a wel­come cen­tre, I sign in with an el­derly wo­man be­hind the counter who wears a blue Space­port Amer­ica flight suit. The room seems to be an old au­di­to­rium, and on one side there is a small stage that sits empty, save for a fold­ing ta­ble and an Amer­i­can flag. At the op­po­site end of the room there’s a num­ber of rick­ety pri­mary-school-level in­ter­ac­tive ex­hibits. Like the plas­tic, kid-size rocket. Above it there’s a cir­cu­lar ban­ner in­scribed with the phrases “Liv­ing in Space, Work­ing in Space, Play­ing in Space.” On the other side of the ban­ner there are more words, but I am not sure whether these were writ­ten for Space­port Amer­ica or are some­one’s left­over en­try from a Soviet poetry com­pe­ti­tion: “Ser­vice, Rou­tine, Mus­cu­lar Ton­al­ity, Gas­troin­testi­nal Health.” Not ex­actly fir­ing up the next gen­er­a­tion to go out and sci­ence the shit out of shit. While I am wait­ing for the tour to start, I meet Blair Wil­liamson. A big guy. Firm hand­shake. “A re­cently re­tired so­lar-power busi­ness­man,” he of­fers. He and his wife had an ex­tra day on their va­ca­tion, and he thought it im­por­tant to see Space­port. “I’m a man who be­lieves in suss­ing out op­por­tu­ni­ties. This is the next big thing,” he says. “If you ask me, it’s a mis­take to go to Mars. We got to get back to the moon. Pronto.” Why’s that? “By the time we get to Mars and come back, there’ll be 10,000 Chi­nese on the moon, wav­ing at

FROM TOP: THE LEAST IN­TER­EST­ING SPACE SHUT­TLE EVER, AT SPACE­PORT AMER­ICA; SPACE­PORT TOUR GUIDE MARK BLETH; MIS­SION CON­TROL, UNMANNED – FOR NOW. RIGHT: SPACE TOURISTS MICKEY MCMANUS AND DARA DOTZ.

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