Space: The final frontier

On August 21, 2021, Ted, Oggie, and I left Layton, UT with a U-Haul full of our oldest grandson’s belongings and headed for Harlingen, TX, a border town near the Gulf Coast where he had accepted a job as a new nurse.

In years past, we’d traveled through the panhandle on the way to or from Kansas whenever weather prevented the Denver route, so I knew Texas harbored vast spaces, but this time we took a deep dive into the interior.

Our route took us through Roswell, NM, site of Robert H. Goddard’s rocketry work in the 1930s and near the area of the controversial UFO forced landing in 1947.

In July of that year, a ranch foreman reported to the sheriff’s department that something had crashed on the Foster Ranch where he worked. The sheriff turned it over to the local Army Airfield which originally reported they had a recovered a flying disk.

A day later, they released a follow-up report stating the debris was actually a weather balloon and thus began the controversy with accusations of a massive government cover up.

In the 1980s, over 30 years later, stories began to circulate that officials had also recovered alien bodies.

Finally, in 1994, the Office of the United States Secretary of the Air Force admitted the recovered wreckage probably came from Project Mogul, a classified program using sophisticated balloons wired with microphones to detect sound waves from Soviet nuclear testing sites.

Whatever the case, the controversy remains today, and Roswell has capitalized on it by placing green alien statues near the entrances of most businesses, creating an International UFO Museum and Research Center, and hosting an annual UFO festival.

Outside of town, John Cerney created one of his famous roadside art scenarios, painted on plyboard. It features a meeting between a ranching family and the aliens with the 1947-styled rancher looking up at the aliens with astonishment, his wife offering a pie to one of the green men, and his teenage son standing by a broken-down pickup with a nearby alien apparently befuddled by the battery cables the boy had placed in his hands.

Even though Ted and I were intrigued by the ufology, and I seriously wanted one of those cute little green guys hanging from my keychain, we had a U-Haul to deliver, so we drove on.

After three days of driving, we finally made it to Harlingen. Other family members eventually arrived in town, most flying in, but our grandson’s other grandma had driven down with him earlier and was instrumental in helping him make the transition.

We emptied the U-Haul at the new apartment, helped put things away, and after everyone had eaten, headed for Elon Musk’s SpaceX an hour away, located in Boca Chica.

Our grandson is a fan of Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX and Tesla, and Musk was one of the reasons he sent a job application into the Harlingen hospital.

Originally, SpaceX was located in the Los Angeles area with Tesla’s headquarters in Palo Alto, but Musk relocated his aerospace company to Texas because he said, “Silicon Valley, or the Bay area, has too much influence on the world...”

However, other reasons may have been because Tesla factories were closed in California due to COVID restrictions, and since Texas doesn’t levy personal taxes, a tax break for the second-richest man in the world.

On April 16, 2021, NASA selected Musk’s Starship for a manned moon launch with SpaceX beating out two competitors, Blue Origin and Dynetics.

The reusable spacecraft is designed to carry 100 people or 100 tons into space, and Musk’s grand goal is to build a thousand of these vessels to colonize Mars.

With our two carloads of family members, we drove past SpaceX to the nearby beach.

While the kids played in the ocean, Oggie hunkered down on the wet sand, and Ted and I walked barefooted on the beach.

Gray pelicans dove straight down into the water after fish, and shore birds pecked at the tiny clams burying themselves in the sand. People fished nearby, and big boats raced through the water.

Looking at the scene that way, no one would ever guess the border was minutes away or that up the embankment a crew was preparing a Starship, the biggest rocket ever created, for a test flight on September 30, 2021.

Our space story wouldn’t be complete without at least a nod to Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s and Blue Origin’s founder and Musk’s most powerful rival.

He launched his first manned vessel on July 20, 2021, crewed by Bezos; his brother; an 82-year-old female aviator, Wally Funk, the oldest person in space; and 18-year-old Oliver Daemen, the youngest.

As we wended our way back to Utah, we passed a Blue Origin sign in the middle of the Texas flatlands near Van Horn.

When we texted our grandson that the launch site was too far away to see, he messaged back that we hadn’t missed much since Blue Origin was “the worst,” but I wondered what would happen if instead of being rivals, the two richest men in the world cooperated in their efforts to explore the heavens and help humanity.

Of course, as exciting as aliens, rockets, and space exploration are, I’m also fascinated by our planet’s creatures, her interior spaces, and her lunar-like landscapes, so before returning to Blanding, Ted and I set our sights on Carlsbad Caverns and White Sands National Monument.

To be continued.

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