Intrigued, hopeful about Alpena spaceport

Life is full of firsts, regardless of one’s age.

A first of mine in recent years was watching a rocket launch a satellite into space from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Standing in the sand at Cocoa Beach, I watched the bright flare from the rocket as it lit up the night sky. The sound of the launch miles and miles away was intense. Being so close to a launch like that made quite the impression on me. Simply put, it was thrilling and left me with goosebumps.

That’s why I’m intrigued by the news this week that there is a movement in the state to have Michigan become home to a satellite launch site of its own. Even more fascinating is the fact that, of five sites under consideration for the project, three of them — Alpena, Rogers City and the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda — are in Northeast Michigan.

Can you imagine watching a rocket launch from any of those locations?

Before one plans on staking out your own viewing vantage point at the beach, there are seemingly hundreds of hurdles that would need to be overcome before anything would become reality. And the earliest we are even talking about having something in place would be 2022.

Personally, I believe the odds are stacked against the launch pad ever becoming reality. But Northeast Michigan has successfully fought through tough odds in the past. Let’s hope the same holds true with this one.

“Conceptually, the idea of a launch facility in northern Michigan is intriguing, but, really, until we receive more information, we don’t know what it means,” said Jim Klarich, executive director of Target Alpena, which represents not only Alpena County economic development efforts, but Presque Isle County efforts, as well.

Rogers City Mayor Scott McLennan told reporter Crystal Nelson he was cautiously optimistic about the concept.

“We’re open to any kind of possibilities, especially when it has to do with economic development in Northeast Michigan,” he said. “But we need more details first before we can make a comment on it.”

In a news release related to the project, Gavin Brown, executive director of the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association, said a site should be identified by June.

If readers need one reason to be optimistic regarding our chances of being selected, let me leave you with this: airspace.

The airspace above us is perhaps more precious than gold.

While most of it is controlled by the U.S. Air Force and restricted, that could prove beneficial in this venture, since the project only needs a small window of it to quickly pass through on its way into space. While, obviously, commercial aircraft can be rerouted during a launch that passes through regular commercial airspace, the fact of having a region where the flights could be scheduled with relatively little disruption to aircraft would be beneficial.

Are we dreaming?

Perhaps.

But remember, when Henry Ford made his first Model T, he was probably dreaming, too. After all, the horse and buggy as a means of transportation was probably working just fine.

Bill Speer can be reached at 989-354-3111, ext. 311, or bspeer@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @billspeer13.