As published in the Las Cruces Sun-News
May 10 was a history-making day for Doña Ana County and the rest of New Mexico when Sir Richard Branson and the team from Virgin Galactic came with the news that they were moving operations for the first-ever commercial “spaceline” to New Mexico right away, bringing their more than 100-member team here to prepare for their first launch coming soon.
While it was a great moment for the state and for the commitment of the counties and communities who have been part of Spaceport America’s story, more than anything, it was a great moment for our youth and young people. History is forever changed for them, because the gateway to space can also be the gateway to careers they never dreamed possible in New Mexico.
Kevin Prieto and Lexy Snell, two of a handful of New Mexico kids who are now part of Virgin’s workforce, stole the show that day. Yes, the picture of Kevin getting a selfie with Sir Richard, Governor Lujan-Grisham, and Senator Tom Udall was the shot seen around the world, but it was what he and Lexy said that reverberated throughout the crowd on hand.
Kevin, NMSU graduate and former student body president, said he’d never imagined he would be able to find the kind of career and opportunity he was looking for in the state he loved so much. As a procurement specialist for the company, Virgin Galactic has made his dream possible.
Lexy, the second woman to graduate from Central New Mexico Community College’s Aviation Maintenance Technician program, is now an assistant crew chief on Virgin Space Ship Unity. She joined Virgin as an intern after graduation, and five years later, is part of the team that built Unity – an actual spaceship.
She shared her personal story with the expressed intention of inspiring other young people like her. Following are a few excerpts from her speech:
“Growing up, I moved a lot and lived in trailer parks. I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I certainly didn’t think I had the option of big dreams.It wasn’t until I was 27 that I figured out what it was.In an attempt to change my life, I took and leap and signed up for something (the program at CNM) I knew nothing about.”
“Over the past 5 years I have fallen in love with the work that I am so lucky to get to do every day. We built Unity, a spaceship, by hand, from scratch. We’ve carried her, via our incredible Mothership, VMS Eve, to 43,000 feet, and let her go. We’ve lit a rocket and flown humans to the edge of space. And then we came back down and did it again. Now we’re ready to come home to open this experience to the rest of the world.
“The point of the story is this:Work hard, take chances, run with opportunities given to you. You may not figure it all out right away, but don’t sell yourself short. Just try. You never know. You just might be able to go from trailer parks to spaceships.”
Kevin and Lexy’s stories are just two examples of the kinds of stories we simply must tell our young people as they chart their own course to the future. We can help them connect education pathways to readying themselves for amazing careers right here in New Mexico, with Virgin and a host of other companies and governmental entities that are part of the richness of New Mexico’s space and aerospace industry.
New Mexico has the assets to carry all of our children toward their own big dreams – wherever those dreams will take them. Then they’ll be ready to make history of their own.