Spaceport America updates

by Kathleen Sloan | March 5, 2021
5 min read
The next test flight for VG's WhiteKnightTwo, the mothership of SpaceShipTwo, is to be sometime in May, delaying, in turn, tourist flights to space until 2022. Source: Virgin Galactic


Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc. stock has fluctuated with its ever-changing test flight schedule that further delays when commercial space tourism flights will begin at Spaceport America.

The stock went public Oct. 28, 2019, and has since hit peaks and valleys that mirror successful or aborted test flights.

Its 52-week high is $62.80, which was achieved Feb. 4, according to a March 3 article by MarketWatch. Its 52-week low is $9.06. At the time of an aborted test flight on Dec. 12, 2020, the company’s stock was selling in the low $30s.

The test objective was to launch SpaceShipTwo, manned by two pilots, from the mothership WhiteKnightTwo into suborbital space, after which SpaceShipTwo was to feather back into the atmosphere and glide back safely to the Spaceport. The spaceship detached from the mothership about 50 miles up, but then its rockets didn’t fire.

“After being released from its mothership, the spaceship’s onboard computer that monitors the rocket motor lost connection,” Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier tweeted soon after the failed launch. “As designed, this triggered a fail-safe scenario that intentionally halted ignition of the rocket motor.”

SpaceShipTwo safely glided back to earth, but, according to a Dec. 14 report, Virgin Galactic’s shares dropped 17 percent on the next trading day.

The make-up test flight was to be Feb. 13, but the company tweeted the day before that it had decided to “allow more time for technical checks.”

The stock had climbed since the failed December launch, but, after the February test flight was cancelled, shares dropped 9.2 percent to $53.95.

Virgin Galactic announced Feb. 25 that it was putting off test flights another two months, according to same-day reporting by SPACENEWS.

The company needed the additional time to correct electromagnetic interference stemming from the new flight control computer, which caused the rockets not to fire, SPACENEWS reported.

The Motley, a stock analysis website, reported on March 4 that Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc. stock had dropped by 3.3 percent by 11 a.m. EST that day. The slide was likely related to the successful test conducted the day before in Texas of the landing capabilities of SN10 Starship, a reusable spaceship developed by Elon Musk’s SpaceX company.

“Potentially, SpaceX could be offering space tourism tickets for as little as $20,000 apiece just two or three years from now,” The Motley Fool article stated, “and Virgin Galactic could have some serious competition on its hands.”

Since its founding in 2004, Virgin Galactic has sold 600 suborbital spaceflights. Early adopters paid $200,000. Later buyers paid $250,000. The company stopped selling flight tickets in 2018. Interested parties may now pay a deposit of $1,000 to join a queue of those who will be given preference when commercial tourist spaceflights become available at an undetermined price, according to CNBC.

The next test flight for SpaceShipTwo is to be sometime in May, according to the Feb. 25 SPACENEWS article, delaying, in turn, tourist flights to space until 2022.

As the Sun went to press today, national news outlets reported that Virgin Galatic’s chairperson had sold $210 million of the company’s stock, further pressuring its price.


The New Mexico Spaceport Authority Board selected Scott McLaughlin this week as Spaceport America’s executive director after a four-month application period.

The Spaceport hired McLaughlin in 2019 as an engineer and shortly afterward promoted him to business development director.

Spaceport America's newly named executive director
Spaceport’s new ED Scott Mclaughlin, an engineer and entrepreneur with a Kennedyesque passion for space exploration. Source: Spaceport America

In July 2020, McLaughlin was appointed interim executive director after then Spaceport director Dan Hicks was accused of financial wrongdoing and placed on administrative leave. Hicks was fired in October after a forensic audit confirmed that his tenure had been marked by procurement, human resources and other management violations.

Alicia Keyes, secretary of the New Mexico Economic Development Department, the parent agency of Spaceport America, and chairperson of the Spaceport Authority board, announced McLaughlin’s selection on Tuesday, March 2.

“Scott brings deep knowledge and extensive experience to the management of New Mexico’s Spaceport America,” Keyes stated in a press release. “He has proven himself as a skilled administrator who can collaborate with employees, the state and our innovative business partners to ensure Spaceport America operates safely and continues to drive job growth in Southern New Mexico.”

McLaughlin is a New Mexico native who received an electrical engineering degree from New Mexico State University. He moved to Texas and then Colorado, where he designed a wind-radar system that he successfully scaled up to become a manufacturing business. Until his return to New Mexico in 2018, he traveled all over the world, installing, marketing and maintaining wind-radar systems.

His designs have been used to support space launches, weather services, pollution studies and shipboard wind measurements.

McLaughlin’s interest in space was influenced by the iconic 1968 Earthrise photograph taken aboard Apollo 8 by astronaut Bill Anders. “Due to human ingenuity and our desire for exploration, the [Earthrise] picture gave us a perspective of ourselves and our world we never had before,” McLaughlin stated in the EDD press release. “It is important for humanity’s future that more and more people see our planet in that way.”

Kathleen Sloan is the Sun’s founder and chief reporter. She can be reached at or 575-297-4146.
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Understanding New Mexico's proposed new social studies standards for K-12 students

“The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”
—National Council for the Social Studies 

Reader Michael L. Hayes of Las Cruces commented: What impresses me is that both the proposed standards and some of the criticisms of them are equally grotesque. I make this bold statement on the basis of my experience as a peripatetic high school and college English teacher for 45 years in many states with many students differing in race, religion, gender and socioeconomic background, and as a civic activist (PTA) in public education (My career, however, was as an independent consultant mainly in defense, energy and the environment.)

The proposed social studies standards are conceptually and instructionally flawed. For starters, a “performance standard” is not a standard at all; it is a task. Asking someone to explain something is not unlike asking someone to water the lawn. Nothing measures the performance, but without a measure, there is no standard. The teacher’s subjective judgment will be all that matters, and almost anything will count as satisfying a “performance standard,” even just trying. Students will be left to wonder “what is on the teacher’s mind?” or “have I sucked up enough.”

Four other quick criticisms of the performance standards. One, they are nearly unintelligible because they are written in jargon. PED’s use of jargon in a document intended for the public is worrisome. Bureaucrats often use jargon to confuse or conceal something uninformed, wrong or unworthy. As a result, most parents, some school board members and more than a few teachers do not understand them.

Two, the performance standards are so vague that they fail to define the education which teachers are supposed to teach, students are supposed to learn, and parents are supposed to understand. PED does not define words like “explain” or “describe” so that teachers can apply “standards” consistently and fairly. The standards do not indicate what teachers are supposed to know in order to teach or specify what students are supposed to learn. Supervisors cannot know whether teachers are teaching social studies well or poorly. The standards are so vague that the public, especially parents or guardians, cannot know the content of public education.

Three, many performance standards are simply unrealistic, especially at grade level. Under “Ethnic, Cultural and Identity Performance Standards”; then under “Diversity and Identity”; then under “Kindergarten,” one such standard is: “Identify how their family does things both the same as and different from how other people do things.” Do six-year-olds know how other people do things? Do they know whether these things are relevant to diversity and identity? Or another standard: “Describe their family history, culture, and past to current contributions of people in their main identity groups.” (A proficient writer would have hyphenated the compound adjective to avoid confusing the reader.) Do six-year-olds know so much about these things in relation to their “identity group”? Since teachers obviously do not teach them about these other people and have not taught them about these groups, why are these and similar items in the curriculum; or do teachers assign them to go home and collect this information?

Point four follows from “three”; some information relevant to some performance measures requires a disclosure of personal or family matters. The younger the students, the easier it is for teachers to invade their privacy and not only their privacy, but also the privacy of their parents or guardians, or neighbors, who may never be aware of these disclosures or not become aware of them until afterward. PED has no right to design a curriculum which requires teachers to ask students for information about themselves, parents or guardians, or neighbors, or puts teachers on the spot if the disclosures reveal criminal conduct. (Bill says Jeff’s father plays games in bed with his daughter. Lila says Angelo’s mother gives herself shots in the arm.) Since teacher-student communications have no legal protection to ensure privacy, those disclosures may become public accidentally or deliberately. The effect of these proposal standards is to turn New Mexico schools and teachers into investigative agents of the state and students into little informants or spies.

This PED proposal for social studies standards is a travesty of education despite its appeals to purportedly enlightened principles. It constitutes a clear and present danger to individual liberty and civil liberties. It should be repudiated; its development, investigated; its PED perpetrators, dismissed. No state curriculum should encourage or require the disclosure of private personal information.

I am equally outraged by the comments of some of T or C’s school board members: Christine LaFont and Julianne Stroup, two white Christian women, who belong to one of the larger minorities in America and assume white and Christian privileges. In different terms but for essentially the same reason, both oppose an education which includes lessons about historical events and trends, and social movements and developments, of other minorities. They object to the proposal for the new social studies standards because of its emphasis on individual and group identities not white or Christian. I am not going to reply with specific objections; they are too numerous and too pointed.

Ms. LaFont urges: “It’s better to address what’s similar with all Americans. It’s not good to differentiate.” Ms. Stroup adds: “Our country is not a racist country. We have to teach to respect each other. We have civil rights laws that protect everyone from discrimination. We need to teach civics, love and respect. We need to teach how to be color blind.”

Their desires for unity and homogeneity, and for mutual respect, are a contradiction and an impossibility. Aside from a shared citizenship, which implies acceptance of the Constitution, the rule of law and equality under the law, little else defines Americans. We are additionally defined by our race, religion, national origin, etc. So mutual respect requires individuals to respect others different from themselves. Disrespect desires blacks, Jews or Palestinians to assimilate or to suppress or conceal racial, religious or national origin aspects of their identity. The only people who want erasure of nonwhite, non-Christian, non-American origin aspects of identity are bigots. Ms. LaFont and Ms. Stroud want standards which, by stressing similarities and eliding differences, desire the erasure of such aspects. What they want will result in a social studies curriculum that enables white, Christian, native-born children to grow up to be bigots and all others to be their victims. This would be the academic equivalent of ethnic cleansing.


This postmortem of a case involving a 75-year-old women who went missing from her home in Hillsboro last September sheds light on the bounds of law enforcement’s capacity to respond, especially in large rural jurisdictions such as Sierra County, and underscores the critical role the public, as well as concerned family and friends, can play in assisting a missing person’s search.

Reader Jane Debrott of Hillsboro commented: Thank you for your article on the tragic loss of Betsey. I am a resident of Hillsboro, a friend of Rick and Betsey, and a member of H.E.L.P. The thing that most distresses me now, is the emphasis on Rick’s mis-naming of the color of their car. I fear that this fact will cause Rick to feel that if he had only gotten the facts right, Betsey may have been rescued before it was too late. The incident was a series of unavoidable events, out of everyone’s control, and we will never know what place the correct color of her car may have had in the outcome. It breaks my heart to think that Rick has had one more thing added to his “what ifs” concerning this incident.

Diana Tittle responded: Dear Jane, the Sun undertook this investigation at the request of a Hillsboro resident concerned about the town’s inability to mount a prompt, coordinated response to the disappearance of a neighbor. From the beginning, I shared your concern about how our findings might affect Betsy’s family and friends. After I completed my research and began writing, I weighed each detail I eventually chose to include against my desire to cause no pain and the public’s right to know about the strengths and limitations of law enforcement’s response and the public’s need to know about how to be of meaningful assistance.

There was information I withheld about the state police investigation and the recovery. But I decided to include the issue of the car’s color because the individuals who spotted Betsy’s car emphasized how its color had been key to their identification of it as the vehicle described in Betsy’s Silver Alert. Because the misinformation was corrected within a couple of hours, I also included in this story the following editorial comment meant to put the error in perspective: “The fact that law enforcement throughout the state was on the lookout in the crucial early hours after Betsy’s disappearance for an elderly woman driving a “light blue” instead of a “silver” Accord would, in retrospect, likely not have changed the outcome of the search” [emphasis added].

I would also point to the story’s overarching conclusion about the inadvisability of assigning blame for what happened: “In this case, a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, many of them beyond human control, hindered the search that it would fall to Hamilton’s department to lead.”

It is my hope that any pain caused by my reporting will eventually be outweighed by its contribution to a better community understanding of what it will take in the future to mount a successful missing person’s search in rural Sierra County.

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