The new Mexico Museum of Space History--the jewel of Alamogordo--sits perched at the foot of the Sacramento Mountains, looking over a veritable sea of decaying corrugated metal.
Its only competition is the school for the blind, which, in the ultimate definition of irony, is the best-looking set of buildings in town.
But the space museum, a reflective cube, outshines the blind school. It reminds me of party headquarters in some long-forgotten ’70s B-movie about the fascist near future--think Logan’s Run or Rollerball.
I lurked around the joint back in December when there was the off chance the space shuttle was going to land in White Sands.
The landing never happened because--as it was made known to those of us watching the coverage on a big-screen television--NASA would rather bring the Discovery down in a terrorist training camp outside of Islamabad, Pakistan, than the fine gypsum dunes bordering the city. The reasoning involved something about it being a real bitch to move the beast once it touches down and all the gypsum gets stuck in the bottom--ironic, as a museum employee informed me that the entire bottom of the space shuttle is, in fact, constructed of gypsum.
While I sat in limbo, I walked around the museum, taking in the sights. I was somewhat dismayed to find the place lacking in upkeep. Much like America’s space program, no one seemed to care.
Sadly, much of Southern New Mexico has this problem. Very cool tourist destinations are left to rot. Go to Lincoln, the place where Billy the Kid murdered two sheriff’s deputies after slipping out of his handcuffs and miraculously producing a handgun from the inside of an outhouse. The place is falling to pieces. Very sad.
Maybe my tastes are far from usual, but I always thought everyone liked space and violent felons from the Old West.
I guess I was wrong.
Anyway, as the possibility of pestering astronauts for an interview lessened with each passing moment, I wandered away from the television and fooled around in the flight simulator for about 10 minutes.
I crashed two space shuttles before the machine told me to get the hell out and let someone else take a crack at it. I looked over my shoulder and saw no one around, but decided against arguing with a disembodied voice.
I kept moving. When you enter the joint, an elevator takes you to the top floor and ramps circling the perimeter guide you down.
There are mostly old knickknacks from the golden era of America’s Space Program: suits, old rocket tubes and photographs.
It is not really highlighted, but our pursuit of space travel coincided with our pursuit of horrible rocket technology. That is evidenced by the very first cruise missile that hangs in close proximity to the papier mache moon that Walter Cronkite stood in front of during the Apollo missions.
I eventually made it to the bottom of the exhibit, where a white, plastic, dog-shaped mannequin sat in a glass cube sporting a canvas suit--Russian Space Dog.
I had had enough of the museum at this point and decided to go back to the large Tuff Shed (news room) to read up on Russian Space Dogs.
After Googling "Russian Space Dog" and perusing several articles about Laika, my day was thoroughly and wholly ruined. You can stuff 75 children into a bus and drive it into a dynamite factory run by pedophiles and I won’t get as misty as one Russian Space Dog dying horribly in a space capsule.