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Wednesday March 3rd, 2010

NEW MEXICO SPACE TRAIL LINKS ANCIENT STARGAZERS TO FUTURE ASTRONAUTS

For more than two decades, The New Mexico Museum of Space History, a division of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, has been developing the “New Mexico Space Trail”. Beginning as a listing of sites within the state that have contributed to man’s exploration of space, from archeoastronomy sites to NASA facilities, it soon became apparent that New Mexico has always had space! Forty seven sites have been identified to date, and include sand paintings of the Navajo, the petroglyphs of the Zuni, the rock alignments at Wizard’s Roost in the Sacramento Mountains (similar to the much larger site of Stonehenge), astronaut training sites like Zuni Salt Lake, the Jemez Mountains and the Rio Grande Gorge area. Where else but New Mexico can the footprints of Spaniards who trekked the El Camino Real cross the path of future astronauts at Spaceport America?

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“New Mexico Space Trail” is an exciting project that our staff has dedicated countless hours to over the past many years,” said Museum Director Randall Hayes. “Our curator, George House, began this project in 2000 and today it has become a truly important historical timeline of New Mexico’s cultural heritage in space exploration, research and development.”

Recently, State Representative Dennis Kintigh learned of the project and realized the significance of “New Mexico Space Trail” and its potential impact on tourism and economic development. Kintigh enlisted the support of Otero County Representatives Gloria Vaughn, Nate Cote and Nora Espinosa, and together they introduced House Memorial 41 directing the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs to study “New Mexico Space Trail” and further develop the project, in conjunction with the Museum. “The relevance of “New Mexico Space Trail” goes far beyond the simple development of a written document. It is an opportunity to emphasize to our citizens, our visitors and particularly to our children the historical and cultural impact of New Mexico’s centuries old fascination with space,” Kintigh said.

In November, the New Mexico Museum of Space History received a grant from the New Mexico Humanities Council and National Endowment for the Humanities for “New Mexico Space Trail” to create a series of 52 consecutive three-minute radio programs, live radio call in programs and supporting promotional brochures and posters detailing New Mexico’s pivotal role in the exploration of space, beginning with archeoastronomy through the development of Spaceport America. Each three-minute radio segment will focus on a different site, or aspect of the site, and be told through the stories of those involved, identifying the personal, cultural and societal impacts of the site program or artifact. They will be available free of charge to radio stations, libraries, schools, newspapers, publications and broadcast media statewide via cd or website download.

Particularly for middle through high schools statewide, the three-minute radio programs will provide an opportunity for students to open the door to New Mexico’s all but hidden history. Used as a teaching tool, these programs will provide an overview of each site that will lead the students to continuing investigation as part of a classroom project. “We will use the heritage that “New Mexico Space Trail” presents to inspire students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” said Museum Education Director Gabriel Veach.

The first live call in radio program took place on Tuesday March 2, 2010, on KRSY AM 1230. Hosted by Michael Shinabery and Jean Vallance, program guests included Humanities Scholar Dr. David Townsend, archeologist and author Pete Eidenbach, Museum of Space History Curator George House, and Patti Brady, daughter of a pioneering ranch family. The program introduced the “New Mexico Space Trail” program, discussed the history of space in New Mexico and its cultural impact.

“The compelling story that Patti Brady told about how her family was displaced by the government from their newly built home and ranch was probably the most poignant example of the cultural impact of the rocket program. The image of her mother, pregnant, driving cattle from horseback to a distant and unfamiliar place is almost unthinkable in today’s society. Yet over 120 families were moved from their homesteads against their will so that White Sands Proving Ground could be created in response to the bombing of Pearl Harbor,” said Cathy Harper, marketing director with the New Mexico Museum of Space History and co-project director for “New Mexico Space Trail”.

Eidenbach and Townsend focused on the archeological and historical aspects of for “New Mexico Space Trail”, particularly as it relates to archeoastronomy sites across the state. Eidenbach told of discovering Wally’s Dome and Wizard’s Roost in the Sacramento Mountains and explained their significance as ancient observatories. He went on to discuss the importance of the astronomical alignment of archeoastronomy sites to native people. Townsend touched on several topics, from the importance of archeoastronomy to the culture of the native people, to whether these sites had an impact on their decision to inhabit a particular area and the factors that then drove the natives to relocate their communities. Both historians pointed out that the “New Mexico Space Trail” project is a significant undertaking that will grow as it develops. This first program is available in its entirety at http://www.alamoam.com, click on the link for Tuesday, March 2, 2010. The second live radio program is scheduled for August 10, 2010, also on KRSY 1230 AM.

“The support shown to us by our local Representatives and the New Mexico Humanities Council validates the dedicated research our staff has given this project. “New Mexico Space Trail” is a valuable tool for the Museum’s Education Department as it reaches out to schools across the state. It also presents a unique chance for tourism and economic development entities statewide to work with the Museum to promote these remarkable state assets,” said Hayes. “New Mexico Space Trail” represents locations in virtually every corner of the state, giving those who follow it not only a window to the past but also an open door to the future. It will encourage citizens and visitors alike to explore the land of enchantment and to see it with new eyes, eyes that will look to the stars with a different understanding of the universe and how it relates to New Mexicans.”

“New Mexico Space Trail” is a series of radio programs detailing New Mexico’s pivotal role in the exploration of space beginning with archeoastronomy through the development of Spaceport America. focusing on the personal, cultural and societal impacts of space exploration. The program is sponsored by the New Mexico Humanities Council, National Endowment for the Humanities, the NM Museum of Space History, International Space Hall of Fame Foundation and participating radio stations. For more information about the “New Mexico Space Trail” project or to share your story, contact the New Mexico Museum of Space History program directors Cathy Harper (575)437-2840 ext 41153, cathy.harper@state.nm.us or Michael Shinabery (575)437-2840 ext. 41137, michael.shinabery@state.nm.us.

The New Mexico Museum of Space History is a division of the NM Department of Cultural Affairs. Admission to the museum is $6.00 for adults, $5.00 for seniors and military personnel, $4.00 for children four to twelve years old, and under four free. For more information, call 575-437-2840 or toll free 1-877-333-6589.

PHOTO CUTLINE:

Wizard’s Roost, a prehistoric observatory near the top of Sierra Blanca Peak in the Sacramento Mountains, is one of the oldest sites currently on the “New Mexico Space Trail”. This photo shows one of the rock alignments used to predict the yearly summer and winter solstices and the heliacal rise of the star Sirius. Built between 100 B.C. and A.D. 900, Wizard’s Roost was used as a calendar, similar to the much larger site of Stonehenge in England. Photo courtesy of Peter Eidenbach.

Summer solstice at Wally’s Dome: the window outlines the rising sun at precisely the longest day of the year, providing an accurate yearly calendar. Native Americans who lived in what is now southern New Mexico built this prehistoric observatory in the eastern Sacramento Mountains between A.D. 850 and A.D. 1000. Wally’s Dome is just one of many archeoastronomy sites on the “New Mexico Space Trail” . Photo courtesy of Peter Eidenbach.

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