Sunday, June 16, 2013

Yes and No on Shiloh

An artist's concept of the proposed Shiloh commercial spaceport. Original image source: Space Florida.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal published dueling opinion columns today debating the proposed commercial spaceport at Shiloh.

The “Yes” argument is by Laura Seward, who is president of the local National Space Society chapter, recently renamed the Florida Space Development Council. Ms. Seward is identified as a planetary scientist and space industry analyst.

She wrote:

The false choice between protecting the area's diverse wildlife and the progress of aerospace enterprise is disproved by a visit to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. For decades we have successfully built and operated a world-class space hub while protecting our natural treasures ...

Furthermore, the Shiloh property is not pristine. It includes fallow orange groves and housing foundations that were developed decades ago. The land was acquired by NASA at the start of the space program, not merely as a buffer but with an expectation that it might be needed for future space development.

The “No” argument is by Clay Henderson, identified as “a New Smyrna Beach attorney [who] has a long history of environmental advocacy and is a past president of the Florida Audubon Society.”

Henderson wrote that “most real rocket scientists know this is absolutely the wrong place,” apparently unaware that a “real rocket scientist” was writing the affirmative.

A map showing the proposed location for the Shiloh spaceport. Image source: Daytona Beach News-Journal.

The location of the proposed spaceport is within the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, and adjacent to the Canaveral National Seashore. Spaceport Florida still won't tell us the exact location, because they know that every spot is fraught with insurmountable environmental issues. The seashore was established by Congress in 1975, and NASA was given five years to reserve locations for future needs of the space program. That door has long closed. Canaveral has the same legal status as Yellowstone and Yosemite and each of the other crown jewels which make up our national park system.

The name Shiloh derives from scripture as a sacred place. Many of us see the grand mosaic of pristine blue waters, lush maritime hammock, scrub, and historic sites as a place so sacred. It is indeed a place worth fighting for, and we will.

A June 12 Orlando Sentinel story featured a video of a January 1997 Delta II explosion at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, suggesting the same could happen at Shiloh and threaten Volusia County residents.

Though no Florida bystander ever has been killed in a rocket accident, the region has seen its share of disasters, including the 1998 explosion of an unmanned Titan IV rocket that resulted in both a miles-wide debris field and a toxic chemical cloud — which floated harmlessly out to sea.

The article claimed that residents in nearby Scottsmoor — “which has about 600 people in 220 homes” — are within three miles of a launch. Space Florida representatives are quoted as saying the paper's analysis is flawed because it tries to compare the SpaceX Brownsville proposal to Shiloh. The Brownsville site, so far unbuilt, would have a different infrastructure.

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