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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Space Race: Focus Back On NM Spaceport After Final Shuttle Flight, Plus: Project Wins Support of Conservative State Sen. And: A City Hall Follow-Up 

Time for a NM Spaceport update now that the USA has launched the space shuttle for the final time. The action is now going to shift to private hands and that puts our little 'ol state right in the middle:

...Perhaps the flashiest private venture is Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, which would carry tourists into space...The going rate is $200,000, although the company, founded by billionaire adventurer
Richard Branson, hopes to bring the cost down by half or more once its suborbital tourism business becomes established.

The company is continuing to test its SpaceShipTwo, which has flown 15 times, and the ship’s carrier vehicle, which has flown 60 times.“We are well on our way through the test flight program,” said spokesman Stephen Attenborough. “It performs fantastically well.”


The company so far has nearly 450 “astronaut customers,” he said, and collected some $60 million in deposits.

A $250 million spaceport that would become the spaceship’s home is nearing completion in New Mexico, Attenborough said. The next big test will be of the ship’s rocket motor, now under development in Nevada.

Attenborough was reluctant to say when the ship might soar into space for the first time, but said that if all goes as planned it could come as soon as next year. “We have a bit of a way to go,” he said. “You need to walk before you can run. We’ve got to prove we can take hundreds of people into space on a regular basis, keep them safe, and give a very good experience to make this commercial venture a success.”


This remains the most forward-looking and promising economic development venture the state has going for it.In New Mexico, first came the railroad in the 1880's ushering in a new economic era. Then came the airplane, making possible the establishment of a giant defense and military complex. And now in the 21st century--the third wave comes in the form of space travel and New Mexico is again poised to reap the benefits.

SHARING THE BENEFIT

Sen. Sharer
The political machinations over this project are fading as the reality of what we are dealing with here starts to take hold. Republican State Senator William Sharer of the Four Corners has this to say about the Spaceport conceived in a Democratic administration:

Sharer said he believes that Spaceport America has the potential to affect the Four Corner Region's oil and gas companies looking to move heavy loads and machinery around the globe." All of the companies build specialized machines that they can put on the space shuttles and have them delivered in four hours," Sharer said.

Sharer sees Spaceport America programs bringing significant economic benefits on local, state and national levels, and leading to the creation of educational programs and technologies at colleges and universities like New Mexico State University.

"Business will come into the state, which will create jobs all over the place. It's also going to be good for tourism," he said.

Sharer, whose district has been hammered by the bear market in natural gas prices, is one of the first GOP legislators to publicly tout the Spaceport as a statewide economic development project, not just one benefiting the south. He's pretty much nailed it. If the Spaceport can someday assist in making New Mexico's energy industry more efficient and competitive, it could mean more jobs for his constituents and more royalty money for the state treasury.

NOT THE RAIL RUNNER

Fortunately, the Spaceport is not tin the same financial pickle as the Rail Runner, even though critics of both projects still try to tie them together as examples of government boondoggles. The question for the Spaceport is not having hundreds of millions in debt and needing subsides, but whether the investment will live up to its potential.

There is the possibility of a several million dollar gap for operational funding in the start-up years that may require legislative appropriations and which we have previously discussed here. We point it out again before the lynch mob that is forming for the Rail Runner starts storming the Spaceport terminal near T or C.

The end of NASA's shuttle flights had Diana Alba of the Las Cruces Sun-News come with this update of all things Spaceport. And managing editor Walt Rubel chimes in with this:

In preparing for the transition from public to private space flight, the Federal Aviation Administration created the Air Transportation Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation in 2010. The partnership will bring together leaders in academia, industry and government to lay the groundwork for a new commercial space industry, and New Mexico State University was selected to lead the effort. That, along with the new aerospace engineering degree program at NMSU, have positioned southern New Mexico to take a leading role in the new commercial space race once Spaceport America is up and flying.

And Aviation Week reports:

Shimmering, mirage-like, in the heat of California’s Mojave Desert, the newly completed steel and concrete of the world’s first commercial suborbital spaceship factory proves the goal of space tourism is nearing fruition.


It's not just about shooting rich people into space, folks. It's also about building an enduring industry for the new century that gives kids around here a shot at the future in their own backyard. And to pull it off we need all the help we can get from this state's political leadership---and then some.

FOLLOW-UP
The bloggin' life
Our Tuesday blog on the City Hall antics evoked widespread reaction in the city so we're back on the case.

Wednesday morning officials released the emergency call from a citizen reporting the Kathy White accident. Several times he describes the wife of Darren White as "out of it." Here's the audio.

Many loose questions remain in the wake of the July 6 one-car accident of the wife of Public Safety Director Darren White and his subsequent intervention on her behalf at the scene of the one-car mishap. Various Alligators came with a box load of questions:

--Did White use the power of his position to influence or pressure the public safety personnel on the scene in terms of the treatment of his wife? Specifically, was a field sobriety test not administered because he was present?

--Why would White claim the paramedics didn't have the right equipment to transport his wife when Fire Chief James Breen said (on KOAT-TV) that they in fact did have the capability to transport his wife?

--Darren has no problem releasing his wife's medical records from the doctor they chose to go to. So why hasn't he released the ABQ Fire Department's EMS report? He is fine releasing "personal medical information" which he had influence over. But that isn't professional medical opinion of what took place at the scene.

--On what date and at what time were her drug tests taken?


(The Journal reports the hospital drug tests were conducted about "five hours" after the crash.

"Deputy District Attorney Mark Drebing, speaking generally and not about Kathleen White’s case, said there’s a difference between a blood test conducted at a hospital and one conducted by law enforcement officers who are investigating a suspected DWI case. Police officers are trained to call in a drug recognition expert, who determines through a series of specialized field sobriety tests whether there is probable cause to draw someone’s blood, Drebing said.)"

--Why wasn't a police report filed until the day this story hit the news?


--Will leaving White in his position as public safety director influence the Independent Review Officer's investigation? Will personnel feel uncomfortable or intimidated to tell the truth to the IRO? Would it be best to place White on administrative leave pending the outcome of the IRO investigation?


THE STONE WALL

KOAT-TV's Ilana Gold wanted to know why White was using "lights and sirens" on his city SUV at the scene of his wife's minor one-car accident, but she ran up against some stone walls in trying to get answers.

The most absurd came from APD spokeswoman Trish Hoffman who said White doesn't have to follow procedure because he is not a police officer. But hold on. White is the public safety director who the police chief calls his "boss." So what rules does he have to follow? Hoffman could not say. And she will still pick up a paycheck this month?

No one, including the Mayor's $75,000 a year PR flack, could seem to answer Ms. Gold's inquiry or chose not to. They referred her to the silent independent review officer. All these handsomely paid city employees and not one could help the inquiring reporter? Stone walls indeed, and you, dear taxpayer, are paying to erect them.

JOURNAL WATCH

About the headline over the Darren White story in the Tuesday ABQ Journal, a reader writes:

Another generous headline from the Journal to deflect attention from the underlying story on that one. Do we really think "Safety Chief Welcomes Probe Of Wife's Crash" reflected the current situation?

The paper's coverage will be closely watched in what could be a turning point week for this administration. They have a chance to prove wrong the critics who assert the paper has bent White's way.

Meanwhile, the paper posted
five minutes of video of Darren White's news conference remarks from Tuesday. You either feel empathy for him or you want to nominate him for an acting Oscar.

By the way, we're buying lunch for anyone who can navigate through the Journal's new version of its website. Maybe it's us, but we just don't get it.

COUNCIL TALK

There are rumblings out of the city council that the nine councilors should commence their own investigation of the White incident. The Mayor has told the city's independent review office to investigate, but the council may want a probe independent of the administration. That could mean hiring their own attorney to conduct a probe. The council may be ready to start separating itself from Berry and White as they look to the future. Republican Councilor Brad Winter is up for re-election in October. He has been seen as an easy winner, but there is a well-qualified Democrat running against him and Winter's re-elect could be complicated by how he reacts to the White story.

The IRO is former Judge William Deaton. Some in the council orbit fear because of his ties to the administration his probe would not satisfy the public and it may be best to do their own and to start holding White directly accountable to council power.

Westside activist Silvio Dell'Angela already has some suggestions for Deaton. He wrote:

I caught the KOAT-7 story by Ilana Gold Tuesday on this Darren White matter and was disappointed with the secrecy. It doesn’t give us confidence in the outcome of your investigation.

I’m sure you know that APD received 650 shirt video recorders in July 2010 that Chief Schultz told the City Councilors had been issued to all officers on the street. I’m sure Officer Al Walck who responded to Ms. Kathleen White’s accident had one of these shirt recorders as well as a belt audio recorder. You should ask to see/hear the recordings made by both.

Darren White spent 30 minutes at the scene--and to do what?
If you are told by APD that these recordings by Walck were never made or inadvertently destroyed, you will be forced to rely on Walck’s and White’s account of what happened, then you may just as well wrap up your investigation as it would be viewed by most as yet another APD cover-up.

LEGAL BEAGLE CORNER


A Legal Beagle reflects on why White's wife did not undergo DWI testing after her accident in which she crashed her black Porsche into a curb:

I've been doing DWI law for 13 years allow me a quick run down on DWI's in ABQ.

"Anybody involved in a one car accident who admits to taking prescription medication gets cuffed and stuffed. Guaranteed."

My buddy even settled a case with the city when his client got into an accident after suffering an epileptic seizure and was illegally arrested for DWI.

The Journal reports: "(Officer) Walck also indicated in his report that Kathleen White had not been drinking alcohol and that she told him she was taking two prescribed medications: Lavora, a birth-control drug, and Lamictal “for anxiety.”

Lamictal is a prescription medication for epilepsy. The paper reported: According to the Physician’s Desk Reference...Lamictal “may cause blurred vision or impair your thinking or reactions. Be careful if you drive or do anything that requires you to be alert and able to see clearly.”

MORE FROM THE MAILBAG

Michael Emerson writes:

I'm confused. Is it Police Chief Schultz or Sergeant Schultz these days? “I know nothing–Nothing!"

And from reader Amanda on the Tuesday blog:

Wow, I thoroughly enjoyed reading that!! Nothing better than a person with a strong opinion and the knowledge to put it down in writing for all to see. Kudos to you. Good work.

An anonymous reader writes:

Republican City Councilor Dan Lewis should help end this harmful distraction by showing some independence and demanding Darren White's resignation.

And Alex writes:

You're blog Tuesday was breathtaking. I stayed up late to see it. Thanks for keeping us buzzing.

And another reader:

You printed what needed to be said. Enough with the "Good Ole Boy"spin club. By the way, the saying from "The Godfather" you quoted is, "You can act like a man!" not "Be a man!"

Proud of you, Joe.

Hey, thanks for the pats on the back. We'll remember them the next time the brickbats start hitting.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2011
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