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Editorial: Successful NASA flight bodes well for the state

It’s a first for NASA and Spaceport America.

Friday’s launch of a private rocket, fully funded by NASA, into suborbital space and back was a first for the southern New Mexico spaceport.

The UP Aerospace rocket flew under NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program, launched after the space shuttle program shut down in July 2011. Since then, the agency has turned to private companies to do various scientific tests above the earth. Other privately owned rockets have carried NASA payload. But this is the first fully NASA-funded private rocket to fly into suborbit.

UP Aerospace was paid close to $600,000, for the successful 14-minute flight to an altitude of 74 miles and successful return. Its payload included NASA experiments and those of the Federal Aviation Administration, the Department of Defense and an Italian engineering firm. It also carried two payloads of educational experiments from school students around the state under the NASA-funded New Mexico Space Grant Consortium’s Summer of Innovation Launch and Learn Program.

“The launch was spectacular,” Spaceport Authority Executive Director Christine Anderson said Friday. “… It did exactly what it was supposed to do.”

One of the beauties of the NASA payload program is that in addition to the knowledge it gains from the scientific tests in space, it can give a boost to the up-and-coming commercial space industry. And Spaceport America needs the business to complement anchor tenant Virgin Galactic.

Friday’s flight is a soaring example of how the public and private sectors can work together. And New Mexicans should benefit from the spaceport’s success.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.