Spaceport Sheboygan

This is a great story from the WISCONSIN STATE JOURNAL:

Cooking a tasty brat is not rocket science.

So forgive me, Sheboygan, if I laughed when I first heard your plans for space travel.

Then I remembered that people in your fine city actually surf in Lake Michigan when the waves kick up each winter. That takes at least as much guts as blasting in a tin can past the stratosphere.

And then I remembered that the moon is made out of cheese, a Wisconsin specialty.

So maybe a Sheboygan space odyssey isn’t so far-out after all?

In case you missed it, state Sen. Joe Liebham, R-Sheboygan, has launched legislation at the state Capitol to create the Wisconsin Aerospace Authority. His bill, SB 352, would seek federal money for “Spaceport Sheboygan,” a launch pad in Brat Land for commercial satellites and, eventually, private spaceships carrying tourists.

At a minimum, I have to give Liebham credit for “thinking outside the bun” about Sheboygan’s and Wisconsin’s long-term economic futures. Most politicians don’t think past the next election. Liebham is literally shooting for the stars.

Yet Liebham had to know his proposal would draw snickers. Sure, hundreds of Midwestern high school science students annually meet in Sheboygan to shoot 8-foot-tall rockets over Lake Michigan. But rockets with people on them?

Skeptics might stamp Liebham’s idea as a clever grab for federal money. Remember the $223 million “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska. Remember the $50 million indoor rainforest for Iowa?

This might be another boondoggle. Or maybe, just maybe, Liebham is on to something.

Sheboygan, like Cape Canaveral in Florida, sits on the western edge of a large body of water. Booster rockets could fall into Lake Michigan as innocently as rockets from the space shuttles fall into the Atlantic Ocean.

UW-Madison, with ties to NASA, could help with technical know-how. And Oshkosh’s nearby EAA AirVenture fly-in could help draw visitors.

Sheboygan also lacks a major airport, limiting air traffic. In fact, a good chunk of Lake Michigan airspace is restricted.

George French, president of the Oklahoma-based company Rocketplane, recently testified at the state Capitol in Madison that Sheboygan is suitable for space launches.

According to French’s Web site, www.rocketplane.com, his company has created “a sub-orbital spacecraft that will launch civilian astronauts more than 330,000 feet above Earth’s atmosphere.”

They even throw in a hearty meal! “Your day begins with a special astronaut breakfast,” the Web pitch begins.

Eggs and hash browns would be the last thing on my mind minutes before blastoff. But the pitch gets better: “As the engines cut off at 175,000 feet and you silently coast upward to peak altitude, you look out the window and are presented with the spectacular view of Earth. You feel the sensation of weightlessness.”

The Web site suggests the flights will start in 2007 – in Oklahoma, not Sheboygan.

Yet a group of Sheboygan business leaders hopes to raise millions in public and private dollars to turn a more than 60-year-old Sheboygan armory into a space tourism complex.

The bottom line, of course, will be money. Just how much will state taxpayers be asked to float on the spacey idea. Even if taxpayers are merely asked to back up borrowed money to get the project off the ground, that might be a tough sell.

Then again, Wisconsin could proudly launch the first brat into space. It would have to be a Sheboygan brat, of course, simmered in beer, chopped onions and butter, cooked on a grill and tucked into a hard roll.

Add that to Rocketplane’s in- flight meal, and I just might sign up. All I’d need is $200,000 and some ketchup.

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