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SpaceShipOne souvenir sales aid community

Published by Sigurd De Keyser on Wed Feb 16, 2005 3:00 pm
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By ALLISON GATLIN Valley Press Staff Writer: MOJAVE – The nascent space tourism industry was not the only beneficiary of the successful SpaceShipOne spaceflights last year.
Community groups – from Little League to senior citizens – are reaping the rewards of their volunteer efforts in conjunction with the historic event.

Nearly $140,000, the proceeds of the Rocket Boosters’ sales of SpaceShipOne merchandise, was distributed Saturday to 18 nonprofit groups.

Before SpaceShip one ever reached space, the worldwide interest directed at the world’s first privately funded, manned space venture was harnessed to benefit the community from which it was launched.

A coalition of area nonprofit groups, known as the Rocket Boosters and operating under the umbrella of the Mojave Chamber of Commerce, secured rights to the SpaceShipOne logo for use on merchandise such as T-shirts and mugs.

The souvenirs were introduced at the program’s first spaceflight June 21 at Mojave Airport, then sold online and at the subsequent flights in September and October during which the SpaceShipOne team claimed the $10 million Ansari X Prize.

“Rocket Boosters was successful because astronaut-pilots Mike Melvill and Brian Binnie flew to new heights and allowed us to ride along in spirit,” said organizer Tonya Rutan, whose husband Burt designed SpaceShipOne.

“Our volunteers brought every sort of expertise – business, permits, accounting, sales, photography, Web design, security; and every sort of equipment – booths, lighting, trailers, generators, radios and remote credit card machines,” she said.

“Mojave Airport opened their gates to us, and we returned the favor by assisting them with traffic control, parking and airport cleanup.

“I think the Rocket Boosters are a shining example of how high we can reach when we all work together.”

Volunteers from the community groups donated their time and efforts not only at the spaceflight events – showing up long before dawn for set-up, traffic duty and sales to early arrivals – but in the ensuing months of Web site sales that served customers around the world.

The proceeds were distributed based on proposals from each group for what it planned to do with its earnings.

Members of the Mojave Senior Citizens took on the daunting task of packaging and shipping the mountains of Web site orders.

“We’ve got new respect for shipping and handling,” member Rheta Scott quipped.

“We had the greatest time. It was a real community effort.”

The Mojave Senior Citizens received a check for $12,000 for their efforts, to go toward the organization’s rebuilding efforts and other projects.

“That’s just going to help us so much,” Scott said. “We kind of consider ourselves the grandparents of the community, so we help the Little League, the schools and such. It all comes back to the community.”

The California City Optimist Club plans to use its portion of the profits – more than $6,000 – to help start an after-school tutoring program in conjunction with the California City Parks and Recreation Department.

The club has conducted countless fund-raisers in the past, but “we can’t come close to the money we got from the Rocket Boosters,” member Judy Phelps said.

“This has been one of the most rewarding, most exhausting things I’ve ever done,” she said.

“It’s been an honor to be involved in this whole thing.”

The project proved extremely fruitful for Mojave Little League as well, netting more than $10,000 for a storage container and snack bar improvements at the league’s fields.

“It’s the biggest fund-raiser we’ve ever been involved with,” said Bill Watts, coach coordinator for the league.

In comparison, the organization’s fireworks booth typically brings in about $3,000, he said.

The Little League youth earned their funds by cleaning up after the throngs of visitors at the June and October flights, proving themselves to be more efficient than the outside teams brought in for the September flight.

The Vernon Saxon Aerospace Museum in Boron has been a secondary outlet for the merchandise sales and a beneficiary of the profits as well.

The museum plans to use the $6,000 it received to aid a variety of projects, including outdoor displays.

“We really weren’t in it for the financial (reasons); we just wanted to be part of something historic,” museum organizer James Welling said.

Saturday’s checks were the second round of proceeds for the volunteers. In August, Rocket Boosters made $20,000 in “good faith” payments with some of the initial profits.

Starting with $52,000 in seed money loans to purchase the merchandise, the organization became a small business in itself, albeit one run completely with volunteer labor.

Because of the constraints on those volunteers over the last nine months, the group plans to shut down its Web site on March 15 and close the books as of March 31, Rutan said.

The date was chosen to give the group time to sell the remaining merchandise on the www.rocketboosters.org Web site and in person at the Antelope Valley Board of Trade Business Outlook Conference on Feb. 25; have an auction on eBay for two Star Wars figures flown in space; and pay any remaining debts and taxes.

The remainder of the profits will be distributed in April, Rutan said.

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