Transcript: Space4U podcast, Danny Jaques

Written by: Space Foundation Editorial Team

I am Carah Barbarick with Space Foundation, and you’re listening to the Space4U podcast. Space4U is designed to tell the stories of the people who make space exploration today more accessible to all. Today we are joined by Danny Jacques of Danny’s Rocket Ranch. Danny was born and raised on a ranch near Ignacio, Colorado, or is he refers to it: The Rocket Ranch.

When he realized that he did not want to be a rancher, his love for space exploration was launched. He dreamt of being an astronaut. After graduating from Fort Lewis College, he began his junior high teaching career. During his career, he escorted hundreds of students to space camp in Huntsville, Alabama.

Danny has since retired but continues to help students attend space camp through his new company Danny’s Rocket Ranch. The small business specializes in selling dehydrated products. After years of making a delicious, fresh salsa, he perfected a dehydrated salsa blend to be consumed on Earth, in space and beyond. A portion of the profits are donated to the US Space and Rocket Center Education Foundation for space camp scholarships.

Welcome Danny. Hi there. How’s it going? Oh, pretty good. Really excited to get your stories shared out with everyone today. I’d love to kind of hear a little bit more about your teaching career and what you taught. Maybe any funny anecdotes? I feel like teachers always have a couple of really good stories.

Oh, yes. Yes we do. But one thing I want to start off with, you know, I can’t do this alone. You know, we, I have a beautiful, my forever bride, Laurel Lake Jacques, uh, we’re co-learners we’re owners of daddy’s rocket ranch. And she is a teacher also, and, and we both have teachers’ hearts and we just, uh, we started this company just out of the love of space and helping children.

So, uh, give you a little background about the Rocket Ranch or maybe about me teaching. I taught 35 years, uh, in Colorado and New Mexico, uh, teaching science. And I was very fortunate because I got to teach at the school I graduated from. So that’s what was quite an honor. And I knew I wanted to be an astronaut, but, you know, uh, being growing up in Southwestern Colorado on a ranch and farm, I really didn’t know how to do that.

So, I had a scholarship to go to Fort Lewis. So, I said, I want to become a teacher. I want to go back to my hometown, give back to my community. And I became a teacher. And teaching was fun. I love junior high school. I thought I wanted to be a high school teacher, but when I met those junior high kids, oh, unfortunately I acted just like them.

So, I said, found my niche. Made you perfect for the younger kids. I dunno, the principal just said, if you’re just like the kids, except you’ve got a mustache, one of the boys have mustaches, but it was fun. Uh, I taught, uh, I think I taught every subject except English, but mostly science and math. And we always had

We always, always taught outside the box. Yeah, of course there are some book learning already, but try to find the way the kids learn the best media we did buy exactly. Did stock market. We did practical application. So, I said, how do you use it in the real world? So, so that’s, that’s how he taught. And I know, yes, I had some funny things happen over the course of the year and every kid who’s listening will know some of these here, but it does give you, give you a couple of what happened over the years.

We’d love building rockets. We always ended the year by our rocket launch and learning about space, the history of space, and always the last week, we would be able to launch your rockets from international space center, uh, and which was a big national high school football field. But we’d always go change the names with national space center.

We invite all the great bull kids to come and watch. And a couple of times we had some mishaps, so to speak. Uh, one time we had to call the fire department because the rocket went up, came down normally, but landed on a grassy field and the engine was still hot enough. It caught the dry grass on fire. So, the fire department had to be called with an engine.

And, uh, I had to put out the fire. Uh, I believe that was the same time we had, we had called the local TV station to come film it so it was all now it was all local news also. It’s kind of a little of what you put your face in your hand. Okay. Yeah, but of course it couldn’t stay private. It had to be with the news as well.

How did you get into taking students to space camp? I mean, Colorado and Alabama are not very close together. So, what prompted that? Well, at the time we start to do this today, I’ve taken 542 kids to space camp in 28 years. But the story behind it is I knew there was a, when I started teaching, I started teaching back in 1985.

And I knew there was a space camp out, down in Huntsville, Alabama. And as a teacher, I knew that sometimes, or sometimes I needed to go and see what space camp was all about. And then of course, in 1987, the movie Space Camp came out to me. Yeah. And then I looked at that, so that just reinforces it. I have to go to space.

Well, I, in 1993, I believe, uh, we were going on family vacation and just happened, we were going to make a detour through Huntsville, Alabama, just because I wanted to spend time at space camp and see what space camp was all about. So, I spent the day there during the museum walking around, uh, talking to some of the employees and the counselors and I, I just said, cool, this place is cool.

I need to bring kids here. So, uh, that little seed started in 1993 and the very next year we had a special program that a special ed teacher was able to acquire some funds and enough money to take two kids to space camp. And she said, could you please send these to take these two boys to space camp and I said, well twist my arm.

So she made complete accommodations to take these two young men to space camp and I, and we get space camp. I said, this is going to be grand. So, I went there, the boys went through space camp, and I spent a week just talking to counselors, talking to kids, talking to the employees, talking to the management, going through the museum.

And I said, wow, this is something, every single person was dedicated to the concept of math, science. They were producing the next generation of space explorers. And I just thought that was you right in my, that little, that little boy heart that was there 30 years prior, I said, wow, this is cool. The next year, the special ed teacher was able to acquire funds to send two more kids.

So I took them also, and it did the same thing. I just hung out at space camp, but just absorb it just, it was like sitting there and absorbing the sunshine. You just absorbed it all in. And I said to myself, I’m going to bring some kids. I need to bring kids as many kids as I can. So, the beginning of the next year, I announced to all my class, I said, we’re going to space camp

And that started the ball down the hill, proverbial snowball. And it’s snowballed. By the time we did all the fundraise, we sold everything to kids. I had a phenomenal group of kids in March of 1997. We boarded a bus with 56 students from Ignacio, Colorado. Now it wasn’t a school bus. We were smart and it hired a, like a commercial coach, out of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

And we did a auxillary vehicle, a school van. So, we took, uh, four sponsors, 56 kids, from 2 to 56, that’s phenomenal. It was we, uh, I just, I was just amazed all I can say. The word that exemplified that whole trip was magical. I remember coming down highway five, interstate 5, 6, 5, and we’re about a half a mile. I could go.

I’m getting goosebumps right now. And we’re driving down the road. We could see the Saturn 1 V rockets, standing up at space camp, all the goosebumps here. I asked the driver said, may I have your, may I have your PA system? And I got on the PA system. And I said, boys and girls, let me be the first one to welcome you to space camp, the roar, the roar that went out of that bus was deafening.

And we rolled in shift with the kids. I, I played tourists with my 35-millimeter camera and took pictures of their kids in every situation. And we had a phenomenal week. We celebrated at the end of the week with our big dinner.

I bought the kids, but I think we went to red lobster. All the kids had bread, eat anything you want, we’re celebrating. This is a celebration. And then we took the 28-hour trip back to Ignacio, there we were, they were dead tired. They were just slept most of the way, but it was magical. I just, I sat there and said wow.

Wow. We’re going to do this again. Yeah. And here we go. And so, you said you’ve had over 500 kids go to space camp with you go to space camp for this, from this area in Southwestern, Colorado. And just putting a little plug. We got, we got a group for June of 2022 already. We’ve got a dozen kids and we’ll try to get between a dozen to 15 kids to go, and we’re going to fly.

Ever since that trip, the second trip was the bus broke down and chest pains during that trip coming back. And I said, if I wake up in a month and I’m not dead, we’re gonna, we’re not gonna take a bus anymore. We’re going to fly. So we flown ever since and because of space camp and aviation challenge, or you’re there, if it’s about space and flying, Hey, might as well fly.

And for some of the kids, that’s their first flight ever. So, it’s a great trip and an adventure for them. Most definitely. Wow. Do you have any students that have since gone on to work in the space industry? Well, I have, uh, one young man. He was on that great big trip that we took. The first is now is York and memory metals metallurgy at Glenn Research Center in Ohio.

And he works for NASA. And I was so blessed that he came back to my class. He spent the day with my, with our kids and he talked to every class and he said, I’m living a dream. I am doing what I want. I’m working at NASA and they’re paying me a lot of money to do what I like to do. And he said, I don’t have a general license.

I have beloved. Young man is just, he’s featured on my induction video for the space camp hall of fame. And he’s just, he, I’m just, we’re proud of that young man. He has a story. I have a couple of another student who is a fighter pilot, is now a major in the Marines. He’s flying F 35s and another young man is a crew chief with A10 lightenings or wart hogs.

And it’s most commonly called. I have five, five older students who are chopper pilots, but the, let me stress. I said, I don’t take credit for any of that. I, I feel that I just gave them the opportunity from where they went to. And these were phenomenal kids. They stand out, they know what they want in life, and they go through.

So I’m just very honored to be among these two, given the opportunity and you know, in life, we need to give an opportunity. I gave them an opportunity that’s and they’ve, they’ve taken in a run. And I hear, I hear about the stories now. I am just very honored to have been a part of uh, the group of kids. So, I know what space camp does for young people.

It opens the doors, they’re training the next generation of space explorers, and we’re going to see, uh, we’re, we’re going to see them. I just thoroughly enjoy watching the space program and just, you know, I always, I always, uh, my shout is onto Mars. That’s Doctor onto Mars. They go, well, if it is, we’re going to see them go back to the Moon with the Artemis project in a few years.

And then onto Mars later, and then to the stars, we’re just starting out where we’re going to go. We’re going to go as, as Star Trek says as no one has gone before, so it’s there. I am so proud and humbled to be just a little part of it. And I hope that, uh, the space salsa. Uh, yes. I’d love to see a package of space salsa on Mars in about 15 years.

Okay. Well, let’s talk about that. Cause that’s kind of your encore career. I’d like to call it of, you know, you’re, you’re not moving away from helping the students. You’re just coming at it from a different direction and funding scholarships for more students to go to space camp, but through Danny’s Rocket Ranch.

Tell us about that. Well, let, let me go back a little bit. How this started. Yes, please. It was 2018 July and it was very vivid because once I was inducted in 2010 as a member of the space, camp hall of fame. And every year after that, I would take my fresh, my fresh salsa. I kind of invented my own fresh salsa about 35 years ago.

And it’s become a staple of most people. If people ask me, oh, you’re gonna have a party. Uh, I said, what would you like me to bring, bring your salsa? I was like, automated, bring your salsa. So my first offer became kind of a stapler going to going to parties. So after I was inducted into the space camp hall of fame, what we would do.

If I would take, uh, uh, lock top boxes, uh, with salsa and put them in a suitcase and pack it with a cold pack. So ,it would stay fresh. And then we would just sit around the pool at Huntsville Marriott was right next door to space camp, and we would just eat salsa and talk about space and like-minded people who sit about it.

And we happened to late at night and under the cover of darkness. So, it was a kind of a, a covert, uh, well in about in 2016 or 17, they made it a legitimate. event was the, the pool party. So, I continued pretty much, I guess it wasn’t as much fun because it wasn’t a covert. So, we took the salsa and often throughout the years.

People were asking Danny, ever thought about selling this. And I go, well, you know, I don’t know. I don’t know about, uh, about, you know, the selling stuff. I, I make it everywhere I go, but I don’t know anything about the salsa market. You look at, you go to the stores and you see a rows of salsa.

So, I don’t know. So it was 2018, uh, in someone asking you the same question, Danny, what you ever thought about selling this and go, yeah, I do. I thought about it, but I don’t really don’t know how. So we’re sitting there eating some more salsa and talking with people a little bit later, I kind of get Dottie Lindenburger.

Uh, she’s a shuttle astronaut and a former Fort Collins, a high school teacher. And I said, Dottie, do you think the folks on the international space station would like my salsa. And she looked over at me with her eyes wide and said they would love your salsa. Okay. So eat more salsa, to talk to more friends and you have some more beverages.

And so I’m sitting around people within earshot and I go. Well, I said, listen up. I said, I don’t know how I’m going to do this kind of in a loud voice. But one of our goals at the space camp hall of fame is to raise money, for our scholarship. So I said, I don’t know how many of you this, but I could have worked on something that we can sell that will help raise money for our scholarship.

So I kind of put it out there, so, okay. I’ve said it now I got to come up with it. So I came back home to the Rocket Ranch and said, oh, it kind of hit my head. Alright. Open my mouth. How am I going to do this? So try not to take too much time, but. Got my first salsa.

Okay. I can make my salsa and we’ll freeze dry. It looked at the, at the aspects of doing that and the equipment necessary. I go, wow, that’s going to be expensive. Okay. What about dehydrated? Well, make progress also dehydrated. Okay. Time-wise okay. We can make it for a little bit less than freeze-drying I’m thinking, but it was very, uh, it was costly doing, going that route.

So I had this, so I had a bright idea. Okay. What if I can source the already freeze dried or dehydrated components of my salsa blended in a manner that all you need to do is rehydrate it with hot water, to warm, to hot water. I started looking at that and come into the mixtures. I said, oh, this is going to be more cost-effective.

So I started gathering the materials from different sources around me in the United States. And I started blending. I was my first test subject, so, and some family members we went through about six or seven different blendings to come up with one that was. So then I said, okay, here’s one, that’s pretty good. Now it’s gotta be packaged in a manner that like it could be in space.

So what I go. So I looked for the vacuum packing, uh, the puffy Mylar packaging. So I found a Mylar packaging that would withstand the rigors of being in space and being launched on a rocket. So I said, well, if it’s going to be space salsa, it’s got to withstand the rigors of a space launch and live in the harsh environment of outer space for long-term.

And yet when it’s rehydrated be nutritious and taste good. Yeah. So, and spicy, I hear astronauts really like spicy food when they’re in space, they do because their, uh, you know, kind of go out and they need, they like that spicy stuff, you know? So, and to all the podcasters, as you tried the space salsa, also, you said your favorite.

Yes. I like the spicy original personally. I see the spicy originals is good. So I send out to them to various, uh, some of my space camp family, and they went one route. I had an online survey, so they, so they could fill out surveys. So using the information I got survey, I brought that information back. Did some work tweaking on the recipe.

Did three more tweaks then I retested with family locally. Yeah, this is really good. This is pretty good. This is probably the one. So I sent that out again to about 20, 25 different people and got the feedback there and said, yeah, this is pretty good. So most of them said this is the one. So that’s why it became as now become Danny’s Rocket Ranch, Martian spicy original.

So you don’t grow any of the ingredients they’re on, on your family, ranch. You, you outsource them all, is that right? Outsource it from a USA, the United States. It’s and again, I thought about growing there, but just the time, the time factor, it would take a lot time and manpower.

And at that time it was just me. And now it’s just Laura and I, so we have to limit what we can do at a, at this point in time at the beginning of our, our company. So, but I found some of the, some of the great, most of it’s organic, but not, it’s not a hundred percent. Uh, these are the best, some of the best, uh, uh, I like let the experts do it, but I’ve come up with a, with a good blend.

It is lightweight. It’s in a package. All you need is the hot water, 10-20 minutes, stir it up and you have salsa. And can you do it right in the bag? That’s I haven’t tried that yet. I’ve only done it in a bowl, but I’ve wondered. Yes, you can do it in the bag to basically you stir it thoroughly.

They take up a little oxygen absorber because that’s an oxygen oxidizer, the oxygen oxidizes, and that’s what leads to a lower, less shelf life. And we have two products so that you can mix it up. I’ve done it that way. It might come out a little lumpy, but they should be stirred thoroughly.

But I like to tell you the story about how we got the Martian hot. I do. I said, okay, we’re going to make it different, but we want to have more flavor and hotter. So what I did was I came up with four different, uh, combinations of hot, and I send it to Laura in, in Bethel, Alaska. And I had it making it for her, for the staff at her school, the four different ones.

And they voted on which ones they liked the best. And what had happened is they like to, they said, oh, we liked the heat for this particular one. But if it was this flavor for as this other one. So I said, if he could mix those two different samples, Perfect. So what I did is I took the two, it took that feedback and I blended it to where it was hot.

It had a good heat index and it was spicier more flavorful. And that’s what became Martian hot. Thanks to the wonderful folks at Gladys Young, uh, elementary school in Bethel, Alaska. Nothing like a teacher’s lounge. A good taste testing, right? Absolutely. So that’s now the Martian Hot. So we have two different products.

And so I know you’re working on some pieces to go with the salsa. You want to talk about those pieces? Yes. I love the expert, the scientific method. We are all working on a milder version. They be a sweeter and fruitier. And we it’ll probably end up being a mostly kid-friendly that maybe you can do pieces of fruit.

And so that’s what, that’s what we’re working in. We’re working that in now and we’re still working on to base off the, uh, new Artemis project and we’re going to name, uh, we have a limeade, uh, if we’re going to the working title right now is Laura’s Lunar Limeade, and it’s a really good limeade drink.

And well-named great alliteration there. Yes, it is. It is very good. Hopefully to get these launched on maybe on a mission or we’ll see, but that’s, that’s the idea to happen. Long-term we, you know, we just trying to get outer space, try and get, and it is astro. Uh, let me go back a little bit. And the salsa that has been purchased by astronauts.

So, and it is astronaut approved, former astronauts have, and they do, they do like it. So it’s, uh, I guess it’s, it’s astronaut approved. This hasn’t made it into space yet. So that’s the next thing. So what we’re going to throw out some different products and just, uh, it’s just a lot of fun, uh, coming up with these ideas.

Yes. And I love that you compared it to the scientific method, the actual experimentation of picking which salsa is the best and which blend is the best. That’s a great comparison. Oh, you gotta get the taste. I know what something that I like, or you like was probably different than, than other people. Like we try to get to a large majority of the population that, that come up with as they do like this.

Okay. That’s kind of the middle of the road. I know some people say, well, your hot is not very hot. And then some people say, well, that’s hot, really hot, but it’s all personal. Kind of hit it the middle of the road. And it’s fabulous. But when you make, when you add it, we have some family members and friends who’ve used it and they started to use it to cook.

Yeah. What is the recipes we came up is we, we add a packet of Danny’s Rocket Space Salsa to a pound of ground beef. And they cook it up. You put you rehydrate first and mix it in and we call it rocket tacos because it already has the tomatoes and onions and everything. And it, all you need to do is add lettuce and cheese and you have tacos.

Perfect. So many uses for it. There is we we’re hoping for, I’m hoping someday in the near future that Laura and I will have a cooking channel called Cooking with Space Salsa. Also, we have several people we have, uh, right now I’m guessing we probably have 10 or 12 different recipes for it. And so we, uh, sometimes the future that’s that’s coming up, but again, I’ll let you go.

It goes back though, the more salsa we can sell, the more kids will help with, uh, with space camp and going to different space camps. And just helping kids, getting them excited and reaching for the stars. If you can dream it, do it. There’s a lot of kids out there that just, they dream, they just need a helping hand.

Space camp is one of the, one of the best ways our kids, our future. We want to see them reach for the stars. And that’s what, that’s what we’re doing. I just exactly right. One student at a time. And I think Laura, and I’ll be here for years, and we’re going to watch you, that you’re watching on TV and we’re going to know a student that is stepping off a lunar or Martian lander that.

This is. Yeah. So this is cool. So I have to ask, you know, you’re, you’re funding a lot of dreams for students. Now that civilians are going to space. Have you considered your dream of being an astronaut still enough? Well, it’s always an option, even if you do have to pay for it. You know, if I get millions of orders of space salsa, because it could be a very likely that I can go to space inspire the next teacher in space.

Well, even if we don’t, I, I was able, I was fortunate enough to, to fly a mission on the zero-gravity plane. And so I’ve got to feel weightlessness, or I say not zero gravity, but micro gravity, micro gravity. Yeah. So that was thoroughly cool. So, so I’ve had a little bit, a little bit of time in a microgravity, uh, being a teacher on the, on the reservations, southwestern Colorado has afforded me a lot of opportunities

To go work at NASA far as for summer projects. Again, I said very, very blessed, very fortunate, and I just want to continue to do this and have fun every day, uh, have fun with, uh, Laura and I have fun with the Rocket Ranch and be around family and kids and, and be around like-minded people who look through this.

You say someday we’ll be out there. And this is great being associated with the Space Foundation. The Discovery Center store has Danny’s Rocket Ranch has salsa also there. So yes, it does. There’s one place that you could pick it up, but we’re, hopefully it’ll be in stores from coast to coast in all 50 states.

Right now we’re only, we’re only in three states right now, but our goal, is to be at least in all 50 states someday. Someday soon. I like it. But people are able to buy the salsa off your website right now. Is that right? Yes. Here, it’s a Well, Danny I’ve really enjoyed hearing your stories and hearing how you’re just continuing to stay in the space realm, but in a totally fresh and different way.

I think that’s awesome. Well, Laura, Laura and I were having just, we’re having a great time with this. We’re going to be doing things probably we have you thought about yet, but we to get two good, great minds together and we’ll think of some stuff that, Hey, let’s, let’s do it. If we can think it, we’re going to do it. Yes, you are an inspiration to your students and a model for doing just that.

Oh, well, thank you very much, Carah. We’re truly honored and home. We’re teachers and teachers make this world a better place. And we plan on being here for a long time and it. It’s spreading the word about space, also space, camp, uh, stem projects, uh, Michelle Lucas with higher orbits. She brings the space, age technology and, and, uh, learning to schools.

And so these are all folks in the space, the space camp hall of fame. And I would like to invite the listeners. That if you learn more about space, camp, or www.spacecampshall of fame. And you can see our stories, not only mine, but all the inductees of the space camp hall of fame.

Perfect. Well, thank you again for joining us today, Danny. It’s been a pleasure. Thank you, Carah. This is totally my pleasure. Thank you for, thank you for having me. And that concludes this episode of Space Foundation Space4U podcast.

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Space4U Podcast: Danny Jaques — Creator & Chief “Salsanaut,” Danny’s Rocket Ranch™ Space Salsa®