As of yet, Danny Jacques hasn’t been to outer space.
Growing up on a ranch in Ignacio, he was fascinated by space exploration and wanted to be an astronaut. But not knowing how to accomplish that dream, he pursued the next best thing: teaching science at Ignacio Junior High School for three decades. During that time, he’s done his best to equip students with the skills they would need to get to space, taking kids from the area to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, for 27 consecutive years.
“One year, I got to stop and visit Space Camp on a family trip. We stopped down there and visited and looked at the rockets, and I go, ‘This place is cool. I gotta bring kids here. This is the coolest,’” Jacques said.
And so he did. So far, he has taken 542 students to the educational camp at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, earning Jacques a place in the Space Camp Hall of Fame.
Now retired from teaching, Jacques is using another tool to send youngsters to Space Camp: salsa.
He experimented with making salsas for years, he said, finally arriving on a recipe that became his go-to food item to bring to parties and gatherings. At a pool party during a Space Camp Hall of Fame reunion, he asked Fort Collins High School teacher-turned-astronaut Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, who launched in the space shuttle Discovery to the International Space Station in 2010, if astronauts would enjoy his salsa on the ISS. She replied affirmatively, setting Jacques’ mind in motion about how to use his salsa as a way to raise money for Space Camp scholarships.
Just over two years later, Jacques finally launched the product on Saturday.
Danny’s Rocket Ranch Space Salsa, which Jacques makes himself on his ranch in Ignacio, is a dehydrated food à la Astronaut Ice Cream. It has a lot of ingredients you’d find in normal salsas, including diced tomatoes, Hatch green chiles, garlic and lime juice – albeit the dry versions.
To prepare the salsa, you tear open the pouch in which it comes, add 1¼ cups of water and reseal it for 20 minutes. The resulting salsa is thick and will stick to foods – it was designed to actually work in a weightless environment, but it would be practical for backpackers and the like as well.
The salsa differs from his traditional, wet salsa recipe, which doesn’t taste the same when made dry. His current recipe, “Martian Spicy Original,” was the result of many rounds of experimentation. A second “Martian Hot” salsa is on the horizon, with a margarita mix potentially farther down the road. In addition to chips, he said it’s great on breakfast burritos, and when made with slightly more water, it works as a taco seasoning.
The salsa sells for $6.49 and is available online at dannysrocketranch.com; in Ignacio at Farmers Fresh Market, Pinon Liquors and Walker’s Do It Best; and at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville. He is currently looking into getting it into stores in Durango.
As soon as the salsa begins turning a profit, Jacques plans to donate 10% to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center Education Foundation for Space Camp scholarships.
“My big payout is when I see someone that I work with walking on Mars. That’s gonna be a big day for me,” he said. “As a teacher, you should inspire kids – have them reach for that brass ring. Kids out here, you’re out in the middle of the reservation and growing up, it’s like, you hear about these things and read about them, see them on TV, but you don’t know how to get there. And so I feel like I can open the door.”
Jacques said he may return to teaching one day. But over the next year, as he continues making salsa, one of his goals is to get it onto the space station – a goal that isn’t out of the realm of possibility. Jacques knows the right people to talk to, and spicy food is often in high demand in orbit. Microgravity tends to dull astronauts’ sense of taste, creating a need for bold items, such as pesto, sriracha sauce and wasabi.