New Mexico: New Art – Part I (and a ½)

Continued from Part I New Mexico: New Art

A few in between thoughts on White Sands and the Alamogordo Museum of Space History . . .

I saw in the newspaper today that it was the 69th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima.  History, but history is only the yesterday of today or the today of tomorrow. On the White Sand’s website there is a notation to check for upcoming closures and missile testings prior to visiting.  It makes it sound so innocuous like checking to see if there will be rain or sunshine during a holiday.  Before stopping in at White Sands we visited the Museum of Space History in Alamogordo and hid from the onslaught of a fierce cloud burst under the enormous basin of a space telescope.  

Outdoor Exhibits Museum of Space History
Outdoor Exhibits NM Museum of Space History

There is a model of a pod from the early space missions in the outdoor exhibits of the museum, where we crawled into the capsule and punched at the buttons, a wooden dashboard, and flimsy gauges and knobs.  Unfathomable that a man actually orbited the earth for days on end in its cramped quarters–now just a game but I can imagine the clammy fear experienced by the astronaut looking out into the black nothingness and then back at the blue-infused sphere of the earth, or does the adrenalin turn the dull ache in the gut into excitement.

Mercury Capsule – Space Museum

The museum is nestled up against a rocky foothill overlooking its sleepy host town with space machinery from all around the world left out to the elements like skeletal remains in the desert.  Along the sloping entrance to the museum grounds was the peculiar resting place of Ham.  The world’s first astronaut and ‘astrochimp’ or that is the first one to survive our curiosity (with numerous primates and small animals dying for the advancement of the American space program alone).  It reminds me of the joke likening purported alien experiments to our own animal testing with the punch line of ‘maybe they’re just testing their shampoo.’   The tombstone felt offhand and yet grand, the solitary grave of Ham standing guard over the accumulation of our advanced thought.  

Ham’s tombstone — NM Space Museum

And of course, all the allusions are firmly ingrained with another cosmic epicenter, Roswell, New Mexico, no more than a car’s ride away.  (As any good conspiracy theorist knows, New Mexico’s Roswell is the rumoured crash-site of an alien spacecraft whose remains and technology were removed to the top-secret Air-Force base referred to colloquially as Area 51).   The photos of Trevor Paglen (surveillance-based, aerial drones, blurred, extreme long-range shots of military bases) remind me of this hidden spectacle and guarded privacy:  what exactly are we not allowed to witness and what are they watching . . .

Trevor Paglen, Reaper Drone
(Indian Springs, NV Distance ~ 2 miles), 2010

After visiting the museum we trekked out into the fields of White Sands but not too far, there is that strange fear or excitement again, one hill of sand turns into the next and the next and the other, it would be so easy to disappear . . .

White Sands footsteps

On the drive back to Albuquerque we passed through the only military check point I’ve gone through inside the U.S. on a stretch of open highway.  The guard asked where we were coming from and where we were heading, two young women on an empty roadway on a Sunday night.  He was handsome and friendly and waved us along on our journey with a smile.


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