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Inside the Capitol

Published by Sigurd De Keyser on Mon Sep 13, 2004 3:20 am
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Jay Miller writes about New Mexico, X Prize Cup, etc..
SANTA FE — New Mexico projects a dual image to the world as a state rich in history and science, and also as a state awash in trash history and pseudo-science.
We are known as the birthplace of the Atomic Age and the location of continuing cutting-edge research in nuclear energy at two national scientific laboratories in Los Alamos and Albuquerque.
Rocket science began in New Mexico with Dr. Robert Goddard’s experiments at Roswell in the 1930s. It has continued at White Sands Missile Range since 1946. And now we have landed the X-Prize competition for commercial rocketry, which should bring space-age industry to our state.
The Mercury, Apollo and shuttle programs also have had a close association with our state. Besides supplying a number of astronauts for the programs, the Mercury astronauts were screened and partly trained here, largely using information obtained from the acceleration and deceleration experiments of Col. John Paul Stapp at Holloman Air Force Base, near Alamogordo.
And astronaut Harrison Schmitt of Silver City not only walked on the moon, he trained the Apollo astronauts in moon geology in our state.
New Mexico Tech, at Socorro, is conducting earth-shaking experimental research on explosives that is helping with the war on terror, in addition to advances in mining and law enforcement. It also is pioneering research on thunderstorms, lightning and other meteorological phenomena.
Just west of Socorro, on the St. Augustine Plains, the Very Large Array radio-telescopes have enlarged our understanding of the universe to include objects the eye cannot see. They are a magnificent sight from Highway 60, just west of Magdalena, and a favorite of movie makers.
Besides all this futuristic research, New Mexico has a rich scientific past. The projectile points found at Clovis, Folsom and elsewhere in the state, have revolutionized anthropology by setting back the time for the earliest presence of humans in the Americas by thousands of years and revealing surprising technological advancement.
In addition, New Mexico also has been the subject of much groundbreaking research in many scientific fields, including archaeology, anthropology, sociology and biology.
But New Mexico also has been home to UFO lore throughout the state. The late Rep. Steve Schiff got a congressional investigation into the Roswell incident. And now Gov. Bill Richardson wants another one. Despite the VLA’s cutting-edge science, its telescopes mainly are known as backdrop for movies about little green men.
Former Sen. Schmitt got an FBI investigation of cattle mutilations in the state. Former Rep. Bill Richardson got an investigation into the Taos Hum. Now Gov. Bill Richardson wants Billy the Kid dug up. That trashes not only good science but good history too. We’re back to dime-novel lore.
New Mexico’s spirituality, dating back to ancient cultures, also must be mentioned. Centered in Santa Fe, the state has more than its share of alternative medicine, New Age lifestyles, crystal fields, force fields, past life regressions, you name it.
Can legitimate science and history coexist with pseudoscience and history? There is a market for both. But does pseudoscience and pseudohistory erode our appreciation for the real thing and allow important sites to fall to development, for instance?
What is important is to differentiate between the two. And sometimes they are divided by a rather fine line. For a while, the X-Prize competition was thought to be a bit far out. But now it has moved into the realm of possibility.
Historian Dave Clary of Roswell has recently tried to draw that line in some important areas. First he investigated the popular UFO phenomena in his book “Before and After Roswell: The Flying Saucer in America 1947-1999.”
Then he moved on to rocket pioneer Robert Goddard and demonstrated how his work in Roswell contributed to Americans walking on the moon just 30 years later. That book, “Rocket Man: Robert Goddard and the Birth of the Space Age” is now out in paperback and available in bookstores.

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