Virgin Galactic Announces Return to Space, Crew

Virgin Galactic announces return to space, crew

Las Cruces native and New Mexico State University graduate Jamila Gilbert is one of four Virgin Galactic employees who will serve as a mission specialists to evaluate the astronaut experience when the company returns to space later this month. The aerospace and space travel company Virgin Galactic yesterday announced the crew and its plans to return to space after close to two years in order to “conduct the final assessment of the spaceflight system and astronaut experience” before commercial service begins in late June. “Returning to space is what we have all worked towards,” President of Spaceline Missions and Safety Mike Moses said in a statement. “Our mission specialists were selected for their diverse expertise, and they couldn’t be better suited to validate the astronaut training program and overall experience. After this flight we will begin flying our customers to space.” Gilbert, according to a news release, is a non-engineer who has been with the company since 2019 “where she has been an integral part of our team, leading internal communications…as a Latina woman of Purépechan-Mexican roots, a visual artist and a communications professional who speaks four languages, Jamila will bring a different perspective from the pilots and engineers who have flown before her.” Last month, Virgin Galactic completed its glide flight from Spaceport America, another key step, the company said, before starting commercial flights.

Councilor Villarreal won’t seek third term

Santa Fe District 1 Councilor Renee Villarreal announced yesterday she won’t run for re-election come Nov. 7. “When I first started on this path as an elected official, I indicated that I would commit to two terms (eight years), and then step down to create space for the next leader as part of my values of building community leadership and ensuring diverse voices have access to positions of power,” Villarreal says in a statement. Villarreal also praised Alma Castro, a local organizer and owner of Café Castro, who announced her intentions to run for the seat last week. “I am thrilled to see another woman of color run for public office and am proud of Alma Castro for stepping up!” Villarreal says. “I have known Alma through the decades and have appreciated her leadership as a community organizer and small business owner. As a local Santafesina, she is running for the right reasons.” Several other candidates also reportedly indicated their interest in the District 1 seat yesterday—the start of the public financing campaign period. Villarreal’s announcement leaves two vacant seats in the upcoming municipal election; District 3 Councilor Chris Rivera also announced last week he won’t seek re-election, whereas Districts 2 and 4 Councilors Michael Garcia and Jamie Cassutt will each seek another term.

George RR Martin backs striking writers

“I am not in LA, so I cannot walk a picket line as I did in 1988, but I want to go on the record with my full and complete and unequivocal support of my Guild.” So writes Santa Fe-based Game of Thrones author/creator George RR Martin in a recent blog post supporting Writers Guild of America union members, who went on strike May 2. Martin notes that he has experienced several such strikes since he began writing for television and film in 1986. “The 1988 strike, the first I was a part of, lasted 22 weeks, the longest in Hollywood history. The 2007-2008 strike, the most recent, went for 100 days. This one may go longer. The issues are more important, imnsho, and I have never seen the Guild so united as it is now.” In a subsequent post yesterday, Martin expounds upon what he considers the most important issue at stake in the strike: “the so-called ‘mini rooms’ that the Guild is hoping to abolish, and the terrible impact they are having on writers at the start of their careers.” Martin learned how to write for TV, he says, in the writers room on the set of The Twilight Zone; “I was the most junior of junior writers, maybe a hot(ish) young writer in the world of SF, but in TV I was so green that I would have been invisible against a green screen,” Martin writes. “And that, in my opinion, is the most important of the things that the Guild is fighting for. The right to have that kind of career path. To enable new writers, young writers, and yes, prose writers, to climb the same ladder.” The way shows work now, he says, “the showrunner assembles a ‘mini-room,’ made up of a couple of senior writers and a couple newcomers” and the chance to learn on set has been lost. Variety magazine reported yesterday several major studies are suspending first-look and other deals amid the ongoing strike.

Ed secretary assembles “dream team”

State Public Education Secretary Arsenio Romero yesterday announced five new members of his leadership team, who will oversee areas ranging from policy to curriculum to equity. “These education leaders embody our vision to boost student outcomes across the board,” Romero said in a statement. “Thought, care and intention were put into the selection process to produce a varied team of individuals poised to affect change. This is my personal dream team.” Seana Flanagan, who has been in the position of managing director in an interim capacity, has been named to that position; she has been with PED since 2014, and previously served as division director of education quality. Gregory Frostad, former interim Policy and Legislative Affairs director and Safe and Healthy Schools director is now assistant secretary of Policy and Research. Amanda DeBell, who is currently Albuquerque Public Schools Zone 3 schools associate superintendent will be the department’s deputy secretary of Teaching, Learning and Innovation. KatieAnn Juanico, who formerly worked for San Felipe Pueblo as its education director, is now assistant secretary of Indian Education for the state. The only out-of-state hire, Candice Castillo, is currently executive officer of Student Support Services at Houston Independent School District and will be coming to New Mexico to serve as deputy secretary of Identity, Equity and Transformation. According to a news release, Castillo “will oversee such things as federal programs, safe and healthy schools, language and culture, and the Black and Hispanic education acts, as well as student, school and family support.”

COVID-19 by the numbers

Reported May 8New cases: 293 (includes the weekend); 681,034 total cases. Deaths: 0 Statewide fatalities: 9,236; Santa Fe County has had 410 total deaths; Statewide hospitalizations: 57; patients on ventilators: four. The state health department will stop reporting daily COVID-19 cases on May 11.

The Centers for Disease and Prevention most recent May 4 “community levels” map shows two New Mexico counties have turned yellow, depicting medium levels: Colfax and McKinley. The rest of the counties remain green, aka have low levels.

Resources: Receive four free at-home COVID-19 tests per household via; Check availability for additional free COVID-19 tests through Project ACT; CDC interactive booster eligibility tool; NM DOH vaccine & booster registration; CDC isolation and exposure interactive tool; COVID-19 treatment info; NMDOH immunocompromised tool kit. People seeking treatment who do not have a medical provider can call NMDOH’s COVID-19 hotline at 1-855-600-3453.

You can read all of SFR’s COVID-19 coverage here.

Listen up

On the most recent episode of KSFR’s CinemaScope podcast, host Nazneen Akhtar Rahim talks with stand-up comedian Mona Shaikh, the first Pakistani female comedian to be selected for the Laugh’s Factory Funniest Person in the World Competition. Host of her own show Minority Reportz, Shaikh talks about how she broke into the industry. “Stand-up comedy is a hard life,” Shaikh says. “So, if you grew up in a normal stable loving home, there’s no need to do stand-up.” Being born and partially raised in Pakistan, she never planned to enter the industry, she says, noting: “I truly believe that you don’t choose comedy; comedy chooses you.”

Telling true stories

As part of its Culture Shifters series, Huffington Post spotlights 23-year-old filmmaker Kymon Greyhorse (Navajo and Tongan), whose short film I Am Home was chosen for the 2023 Sundance Film Festival just six months after Greyhorse—who grew up in both New Mexico and Utah—graduated from the University of New Mexico. I Am Home, the story notes, began as a poem Greyhorse wrote during the pandemic while isolating in Albuquerque. “All of that built-up loneliness and feeling lost and confused of what the future looked like for me—it was like I was almost desperate for anything that would ground me while I was slowly drifting off,” Greyhorse tells Huffington Post. “I wanted to feel family. I wanted my anxiety to fade away and for someone to tell me that I’m good and that this feeling isn’t forever. So I took all of those emotions and put it to words.” Last year, Greyhorse released his first narrative short film “Can I Love You?” inspired by his mother and the addiction and violence she encountered growing up on the Navajo reservation. About the film, Greyhorse says in his director’s statement: “My mom was the backbone of the family, the responsible one that grew up too fast. She tried her best to hide and protect my aunt and uncles from the ugliness but would soon watch them indulge in the same poisons of substance abuse, domestic violence, and neglect. She had dreams she thought might’ve been too big. Ones that seemed too good to be true.” Ultimately, he says, the film is “a love letter to my mom.”

Jalapeño conspiracies

While we normally eschew spreading conspiracy theories, we’re making an exception for one that involves our favorite topic: chile peppers. In this case: jalapeños. Dallas-based D Magazine dining critic Brian Reinhart began his investigation into the “de-spicification” of jalapeños in his own kitchen, writing: “It’s not just you: jalapeño peppers are less spicy and less predictable than ever before. As heat-seekers chase ever-fiercer varieties of pepper—Carolina reapers, scorpions, ghosts—the classic jalapeño is going in the opposite direction” by design. He then speaks with Dallas-area chefs, many of whom agree jalapeños have lost their fieriness. But you can’t just yak with Texans if you want to investigate chile peppers; you have to consult the experts—in this case: Stephanie Walker, extension vegetable specialist at New Mexico State University, advisory board member of that university’s Chile Pepper Institute, and chair of the 2023 New Mexico Chile Conference. Walker says she’s heard the complaints about jalapeños’ diminishing kick and, it turns out, she has a theory, which Reinhart characterizes as “the vast jalapeño conspiracy.” We won’t completely spoil the story of how jalapeños lost their punch (it’s a good read) but suffice it to say: big processing, cross-breeding and Texas shoulder some of the blame.

Fire in Mora County

The National Weather Service forecasts another relatively calm day for Santa Fe, with sunny skies, a high temperature near 72 degrees and north wind 5 to 15 mph becoming southwest in the afternoon. However, elevated fire conditions are in effect throughout much of the state and, yesterday, interagency fire officials reported the Las Cocas fire, burning just south of Guadalupita in Mora County. As of last night, the fire was at estimated at 75 to 100 acres and 10% containment, with volunteer firefighters digging hand lines; and Santa Fe hot shots en route. The cause of the fire is under investigation. In the wake of last year’s devastating Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon wildfire, caused by prescribed burns, fire officials this week say they postponed a scheduled prescribed burn scheduled to have begun Sunday in the Carson National Forest in response to this week’s dangerous fire weather.

Thanks for reading! The Word almost wishes she was in New Jersey so she could visit the Toni Morrison: Sites of Memory exhibition at Princeton University Library, about which Jasmine Liu writes compellingly in the LA Times Review of Books.

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