We have been reminded of the ongoing space exploration recently when Neil Armstrong died. Some readers might wonder what an Astronaut from Ohio has to do with Calhoun County history. Well, here is the story:

Only some of us can remember or even know that we once had a pretty intimate involvement with space. The date September 9, 2012 slipped right by with little or no fanfare. However, thirty years before on September 9, 1982 and at 10:18 am the Conestoga with an over 1000 pound payload, actually just a tank of water, lifted off from Matagorda Island. It flew for 10.5 minutes and landed in the Gulf.

For sure that was a longer flight both time wise and length wise than the ones those other Ohio boys, the Wrights, flew at Kitty Hawk. Like the Wright brothers this was a privately financed deal. There was no government involvement. It was the culmination of the work of Toddy Lee Wynne and Space Services Inc of America (SSIA). That was a consortium of well to do folks who were interested in promoting private space.

Like the government they had some disappointments along the way. Their first space ship had exploded on the pad in 1981. They were Texans so they went back to work and designed and built a new one. That was the one that flew in 1982, Once again the private way moved faster.

So its main champion didn’t get to see his success. Toddie Lee died the same day. That same year things began to change drastically for Matagorda Island. By December of 1982 the first of the many steps that led to Matagorda Island becoming off limits for public use. Nowadays the Island is under the authority of the USFWS. It is managed as a part of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge Complex. One could say it’s for the birds.

However, when one gets a chance to go over there and explore the historical gravesites or the Lighthouse as you traverse the island you can see abundant wildlife of all kinds. It is also true that Texas Parks and Wildlife still has some jurisdiction on the north end of the Island for park type facilities. However, budget and other complications make it a difficult place to visit.
SSIA is still in business. Private space efforts are still underway in Texas. Jeff Bezos, of Amazon has a big area in Northwest Texas where work is ongoing. There is an effort under way around Brownsville. There are rumors of other efforts of a like kind.

What ever the results of these plans brings to fruition there can be little doubt that Calhoun County was where private space flight of significant capacity was in its early days. We are somewhat like Spain when they started Magellan and his ships on the trip around the world or Portugal sent Vasco De Gamma around Africa to India. Rest in Peace Neil we will carry on the banner here.

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