Congress, States

Briefs: NM spaceport legislation update, Lick letter

When the New Mexico Legislature adjourned Thursday, supporters of Spaceport America there breathed sighs of relief. Two bills that would have altered use of a spaceport-related sales tax failed to pass before adjournment, and thus died, the Las Cruces Sun-News reported. As previously noted here, one bill would have prevented the state’s spaceport authority from using excess tax revenues to fund spaceport operations, while another would have reduced state aid to local schools by the amount of tax revenues collected for those purposes. In addition, legislators passed a capital works bill that includes $6 million to fund the next phase of work on a road that leads to the spaceport from the south.

Meanwhile, in California, nine Democratic members of the state’s Congressional delegation sent a latter Thursday to University of California president Janet Napolitano, asking her to reconsider a decision to end university funding of Lick Observatory near San Jose. Late last year, the UC system decided to phase out funding of the observatory—about $1.8 million a year—starting in 2016, with funding ending entirely in 2018, and focus instead on the much larger Keck Observatory and the planned Thirty Meter Telescope. “While we certainly understand the constraints of tight budgets, it would be short-sighted to pinch pennies by shutting down this exemplary facility,” the members, led by Rep. Zoe Lofgren, write, arguing that the 125-year-old observatory’s “time is not passed.”

4 comments to Briefs: NM spaceport legislation update, Lick letter

  • Vladislaw

    Well it looks likes the people’s representatives have spoken on the space port issue and it seems they want to move forward to the future and not the past. Good to see this.

  • amightywind

    I’m sorry New Mexico taxpayers that you are being robbed by the Kleptocracy. You get the government you deserve.

    Big Sister is right to close Lick. Turn it into a museum, or sell it to Google.

  • Hiram

    The decision to end funding of Lick is noteworthy, and there are other moderate capability observatories whose support is similarly debatable. But even aside from sentimental and historical reasons, there are good arguments against its closure. One, which is noted by Fillipenko, is that the mega observatories that are eating most of the available funding are available to individual researchers and students for maybe a couple of nights a year, at best. There are also many programs that such infrequent access simply can’t serve. Kinematic monitoring for exoplanet detection, for example, and testing and validation of experimental instrumentation. A common argument for keeping such observatories active is for educational purposes, as in situ training grounds for future generations of astronomers. Perhaps sadly, however, that’s a somewhat dated argument, as most cutting edge research is done at a distance, whether from autonomously operated space telescopes or from remote sites, which may be in an office on the other side of the Earth.

    It’s sort of like saying that you can’t do anything anymore with suborbital launches, now that we have access to orbiting platforms. Or that you might as well shut down small launchers once we have SLS.

  • Fred Willett

    A good read is “How I killed Pluto and why it had it coming” by Mike Brown.
    In it he tells how much of his work finding Kupier belt bodies was done on smaller neglected telescopes.
    No telescope is too small for good science. You just need to be creative.

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