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August 10, 2012

Mars and Beyond

This week NASA tumbled back into international headlines with the recent triumphant landing of the latest Mars rover, Curiosity. Thinking about Curiosity (yes, you can follow it on Twitter and Facebook) set me to imagining again a teeming spaceport nestled in our own Wisconsin. Ever since I stumbled across the term "spaceport" in the Wisconsin Statutes, I can’t help but dream a little about the potential behind that word.

Video from
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory California Institute of Technology

I had expected to find the origins of "spaceport" as it appears in the WI Statutes, and the accompanying Wisconsin Aerospace Authority, to be rooted somewhere in the 70's – a bold legislative vision spurred by the moon landing. Instead, I was surprised to learn the originating act passed just a short time before I arrived in Wisconsin - with 2005 WI Act 335. The act was intended:

[To create] the Wisconsin Aerospace Authority to develop and operate spaceports and related facilities and services and other aerospace facilities and services and providing the authority with the power of condemnation, authorizing municipalities to develop and operate spaceports, and making an appropriation.

Researching the act further, I learned that the legislation was primarily intended to build a space science educational facility in Sheboygan – the Great Lakes Aerospace Science and Education Center.

With the facility now established the Wisconsin Aerospace Authority is currently unfunded. But it's still fun for space nerds like me to see those mentions of "spaceport" in the statutes – a little dream for the future scattered throughout our laws.

The Federal Aviation Administration has an interesting guide on their site for those who want to learn more about spaceport support in the United States: State support for commercial space activities. Their summary for Wisconsin says:

Though not focused specifically on space transportation, Wisconsin offers a wide range of incentives geared specifically towards high technology business. Many of these incentives are accessible to space transportation companies who locate within Wisconsin. 

With commercial space vehicles in development, perhaps this will become relevant again someday soon. For more on the law and spaceports, see P.J. Blount's "If you legislate it, they will come: using incentive-based legislation to attract the commercial space industry" (Air and Space Lawyer. 22.3 (July 2009)) Sign in with your library card to read this article.

As others have mentioned, be sure to watch around 7:50 when the room erupts in cheers when the safe arrival has been confirmed and telemetry begins to come in.

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