Log In

Reset Password
News Education Local News Nation & World New Mexico

Retired Ignacio teacher has a unique way of sending students to Space Camp

Salsa and margarita mixes designed for astronaut consumption are helping teenagers get to Huntsville, Alabama
Retired science teacher Danny Jaques has been sending Ignacio youths to Space Camp for 32 years. He now helps get them there by selling “space salsa” and “space margarita.” “I’m just having fun here, trying to sell as much retail as I can,” he said. “The more money I can make, the more kids we can help.” (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Danny Jaques is a space nerd.

It’s a character trait he has embraced since childhood. He’s been fascinated, some would say obsessed, with astronomy and all things space-related since he watched the Mercury-Atlas 9 launch into space on the television with his father, the last of the Mercury crewed space missions.

“I was that little kid back in 1963 asking my dad to get me up and watch the launch on black and white TV,” Jaques said, “I wanted to be an astronaut, but I grew up on a farm in Ignacio. My dad had two strong boys: me and my brother, to work the farm. I knew Johnson Space Center was down there (in Houston), but I didn’t know if I could get there.”

Though Jaques kept his sights set on the stars, he eventually attended Fort Lewis College on a full scholarship, where he earned degrees in three different fields.

“I graduated Fort Lewis with an associate’s in agriculture and a B.S. in biology,” he said. “And I have a doctorate in education, too.”

Jaques began teaching science at Ignacio Middle School and was eventually selected to tour the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. He was so impressed with the programs, facilities and people, he decided Ignacio students should have the opportunity to visit.

Jaques was also inspired by the 1986 Hollywood movie “Space Camp.” The movie’s plotline centers around a group of American teenagers who attend a summer program at Space Camp at Kennedy Space Center near Cape Canaveral, Florida. Toward the movie’s halfway mark, the kids are accidentally launched into space because of the actions of a NASA robot named Max, who is trying to make an astronaut wannabe’s dreams come true.

The notion of sending space and science-enthused youths to learn about the inner workings of NASA and the American space program stuck with Jaques. Touring the U.S. Rocket and Space Center would be fun a thing to do with his students, but having them attend the actual Space Camp in Huntsville was more ideal. In 1993, beginning with a handful of interested teenagers, he started planning trips to Space Camp in Alabama.

One year, after showing slide presentations to the school about Space Camp, Jaques found he had a lot more interested students than the handful he was used to.

“Fifty-six kids signed up,” he said. “We did some fundraising goals, raised money and chartered a bus from Ignacio to Huntsville. Twenty-eight hours with 56 junior high-aged boys and girls. What an adventure!”

Jaques’ yearly trips earned him a membership into the Space Camp Hall of Fame. Heeven got to meet the actors and director of “Space Camp” at a Hall of Fame members gathering in 2018. He asked Harry Winer, the film’s director, if he understood how many kids had been influenced to go to Space Camp or join the space program since the movie’s release in the 1980s.

“He was very humble,” he said. “He said, ”‘Not until now.’ I said, ‘You did a great service. You inspired thousands upon thousands of kids.’”

Over the years, while attending Space Camp with his students, Jaques would bring his special salsa to gatherings by the pool.

“I would take my fresh salsa and go down there,” he said. “And we just kind of started an unofficial little clandestine party of our own. The pool party soon became a regular event, and I would always bring the salsa. People would tell me, ‘Danny, the salsa is really good. Have you ever thought about marketing it?’”

An enterprising idea began to form in his head: How could he combine his love of space with his talent for making salsa?

Space Salsa

In 2018, Jaques and Laura Lake, his wife and business partner (whom he calls his “forever bride”), began to mass produce his dehydrated condiment, along with something that goes together with space salsa: space margarita. When not mixed with tequila, “Marsarita the Martian” can also be made into a limeade drink.

“I call it ‘Lunar Limeade,’” he said. “It makes your lips pucker, but it’s really good.”

Jaques has future plans to include space bloody marys into his inventory, something to consume the morning after drinking too many space margaritas.

“We’re trying it out,” he said. “I’ve been working on a couple of test samples, and it has some prospects. People suggest ideas for us, and that one sounds pretty good. We’re giving it a shot.”

Currently selling his various space products in 45 stores and space museums across the U.S., he hopes to get up to 1,000 stores in the near future. Everywhere he travels, he carries two suitcases, one filled with his personal belongings, and one filled with his space salsas and Marsarita the Martian/Lunar Limeade mixes.

“I have cutlery cups and everything,” he said. “I’m ready to sell. I have cash, check, money order. I’m ready for you.”

Though he is now retired from teaching after 32 years, a percentage of the proceeds continue to send Ignacio students to Space Camp.

Jaques sells his Danny’s Rocket Ranch margarita mix to help pay for students to go to Space Camp. When not mixed with tequila, the dehydrated concoction can be made into a limeade drink. “I call it ‘Lunar Limeade,’” he said. “It makes your lips pucker, but it’s really good.” (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

“I’m just having fun here, trying to sell as much retail as I can,” Jaques said. “The more money I can make, the more kids we can help. Maybe we could make enough money for our scholarships to help kids from all over the United States.”

To date, he has helped 540 students fulfill their dreams of attending Space Camp. He is also aiming to get his products put onto a space shuttle or sent to the International Space Station someday, maybe even placed on a rocket to Mars.

“My salsas and margarita mix are space certified,” he said. “It’d be amazing if they were launched on a rocket one day.”