Not long ago, when the Mars lander InSight touched down on the Red Planet, we wrote about the significant stake this region has in the on-again, off-again exploration of space.
NASA streamed live video of Jet Propulsion Lab’s mission control room during lab workers’ white-knuckle landing sequence, and when it finally ended, the group erupted, ecstatic and thankful that more than a decade of planning and preparation had paid off, big time.
The InSight mission has important local connections. The giant rocket that started the lander on its flight was launched at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Key components of the lander were pieced together at a plant in Goleta. And just as a general rule, North County residents have a continuing love affair with space and our efforts to explore what’s out there.
All of which helps explain the multiple efforts to create a space center/museum/theme park. Private efforts to light such a fire have been all over the map, mostly sharing a truly grand objective, but sputtering before liftoff. In most cases it was a matter of money, or a lack thereof.
There is a new effort to complete the regional space center dream, and a rough outline was presented to the Lompoc City Council last week. You could see interest in the faces of council and audience members when one of the project’s principals referred to it as a potential “national treasure.”
The interactive presentation included a brief video highlighting the entertainment and educational opportunities inherent in such a project. There also are some obvious benefits specific to the Lompoc Valley, given the fact that the nation’s West Coast space launch sites are at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
The previous space center proposal evaporated with a thud at the end of 2015, largely because its backers weren’t keen to share financial details with city officials, who made the right call by slamming on the brakes. When a proposal comes from the private sector to use public land, elected officials have every right to know if the project’s funding is on solid ground.
The pitch council members heard last Tuesday night is not unlike the previous space center effort — building a multi-use complex on city-owned land between North H Street and Hancock College’s Lompoc Valley campus, which to us seems a perfect spot.
Perhaps most encouraging were assurances from the project’s team that financial discussions indicate the funding is available to get the job completed. The creative lead on the project explained his extensive personal history in the theme park industry, which is essential.
That, too, is somewhat like the previous space center proposal, but judging from the interest level at last week’s meeting, this iteration of the City Council may be willing to proceed, but cautiously.
The deal is certainly worth looking into. If such a center is built, we can imagine the tens of thousands of people who might enjoy a space museum experience during a big launch event at Vandenberg. Over the course of an active series of space launches, it’s not difficult to imagine the enormous economic benefit directly to the Lompoc Valley, and a rippling effect for the entire North County region.
Council members later agreed to discuss the pros and cons, and decide at a later date about essentially providing the ground upon which such an attraction would be constructed.
Viewing a launch from VAFB is an absolute must-see. Watching one of these giants roar into the heavens is a powerful experience. A space center would add to that greatly.