Life in a State of Nature
Reader photos of creatures big and small.
This month's collection of reader photos of our Southwest "zoo" ranges across the region geographically as well as zoologically. This tarantula posed for Geri Reeves of Lordsburg, who writes: "We've had a visitor come creepy-crawling through the yard several times a week that I've named 'Tickles.' I'm fairly new to living in the desert and its unusual creatures so I'm always taking pictures of whatever I see. I'm not afraid of tarantulas so I got as close as I could with my camera. I hope this hairy fella wasn't too upset with my paparazzi-ness and feels safe enough to stick around so we can enjoy his visits next year, too."
From arachnid to avian, here's this picture from Kara Naber: "I took this photo of a dove family, safe from predators in a cholla cactus, outside our home in Columbus."
Turning to mammals, we've got another shot from Ron Saltzman, proprietor of the Frame and Art Center in Las Cruces. This bison was part of a photo safari at the Ladder Ranch in southern New Mexico.
Lizards, anyone? Dennis Lane of Silver City writes: "This juvenile Greater Short-horned Lizard, Phrynosoma hernandesi, was seen on the road to Bear Mountain Lodge. Of the horned lizards, this is one of the most common in the area because the species is more adaptable to higher elevations compared to its horned-lizard 'cousins.' The adults are about three and a half inches long and their diet includes harvester ants, which we found in abundance along the trails. Identification was done by Julian Lee."
Share your own photos of local creatures across the taxonomic spectrum! Send to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail to PO Box 191, Silver City, NM 88062, and include your postal address for a little thank-you.
Virgin Galactic gets cozy with NBC, asks other media to cut it (even more) slack.
by David A. Fryxell
If Virgin Galactic could manage the intricacies of spaceflight as well as it handles the news media, its SpaceShipTwo would already be ferrying tourists skyward at New Mexico's Spaceport America. (Instead, the Richard Branson space enterprise is at least five years behind its original schedule, a fact seldom mentioned in fawning media reports.)
Last month, "NBC Nightly News" devoted a chunk of precious airtime to a wholly uncritical piece on the promise of space tourism, featuring Branson but not, alas, a single mention of Spaceport America. Branson and son Sam, who along with daughter Holly will be aboard the maiden flight whenever it finally happens, were interviewed about the thrill of going into space. Left unsaid was the detail that SpaceShipTwo will launch tourists only to the very edge of the technical definition of "outer space," at about 70 miles up — less than two-thirds the 116-mile altitude achieved by astronaut Alan Shepard, the first American in space, in 1961.
Lacking any apparent news peg — SpaceShip Two's last powered test flight was back in September — what motivated NBC to air this puff piece? The answer came at the end of the segment, when it was announced that Virgin Galactic and NBCUniversal have signed a "multi-platform partnership" for the network's affiliates to transmit the maiden flight.
According to the Universe Today website, "Disclosed platforms so far include CNBC, MSNBC, NBCNews.com, Syfy and The Weather Channel. They also plan a primetime special on NBC on the launch's eve, and to host a live event for three hours on NBC's 'Today' show. Financial terms were not released." A "Today" story suggests that flight could actually launch from Spaceport America in Upham, NM, rather than Virgin Galactic's Mojave, Calif., testing facility as originally planned.
As for the test flights underway at the Mojave airstrip, Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides wants science journalists to, well, stop acting so much like journalists and more like the cheerleaders at NBC. Speaking at the New Horizons in Science conference, a meeting of science writers at the University of Florida, his presentation ended with a plea for the media to put such projects in context.
According to the New Space Journal website, Whiteside said, "We face a challenge in the Western world right now, and that is an aversion to risky projects. We need a capacity to engage in audacious, bold and risky projects in our society." The media, he said, have a duty to "contextualize" such efforts and the public's resulting perceptions.
"I'm not arguing that that means the press should cast an uncritical eye towards such projects," he said. "But, in cases like, for example, flight tests, you all play a critical role in explaining to the information consumer what's really going on, and how people should think about it.... We're doing flight tests now. Things will go wrong in flight tests, I guarantee you.... The point of flight tests is to figure out where things go wrong and to fix them before you put them into commercial service."
After the talk, when one questioner asked the CEO, "With all the problems we have on Earth, why are we creating amusement park rides in space for rich people?," Whiteside shot him down: "We are privately funded, so it's not up to you. You have a right to talk about your tax dollars, because it's your tax dollars. This is not your money, so you don't have a right to say that it shouldn't be done."
Apparently the Virgin Galactic CEO doesn't count the more than $200 million New Mexico taxpayers have contributed toward building Spaceport America. The New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) recently requested an additional $6.9 million to fund the paving of a $15 million road to the spaceport. The agency blamed delays in the launch schedule for shortages of expected revenues from Virgin Galactic spaceflights and tourists.
The Tumbleweeds Top 10
Who and what's been making news from New Mexico this past month, as measured by mentions in Google News (news.google.com). Trends noted are vs. last month's total hits; * indicates new to the list. Number in parenthesis indicates last month's Top 10 rank. We officially have our first Top 10 Lady Gaga sighting, as the singer announced plans to perform at Spaceport America before blasting off and singing from space. Plus we're keeping an eye on the much-chattered Chris Christie-Susana Martinez 2016 ticket, while wondering why it shouldn't be Martinez-Christie instead....
1. (2) Gov. Susana Martinez — 387 hits (▲)
2. (5) Virgin Galactic — 371 hits (▲)
3. (3) New Mexico + immigration — 252 hits (▼)
4. (-) Spaceport America — 221 hits (▲)
5. (9) Sen. Tom Udall — 191 hits (▲)
6. (6) New Mexico gay marriage — 190 hits (▲)
7. (-) Lady Gaga + Spaceport — 174 hits *
8. (-) New Mexico spaceport — 171 hits (▲)
9. (4) New Mexico drought — 147 hits (▼)
10.(-) Susana Martinez + NJ Gov. Chris Christie — 112 hits*