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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

New Mexico to spend 110 million for Virgin Galactic spaceport.

New Mexico goes a little pie in the sky with spaceport idea There might be something New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson isn't telling us about this spaceport he's building. Something, perhaps, related to what the military didn't want to tell us 50 years ago about events near a place called Roswell ... Yes, New Mexico is going to construct a spaceport in the desert. I picture the last scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind and a gate-area bar called the Star Wars Cantina. This month, Richardson persuaded the Legislature to authorize $110 million for the project. The facility is going to be called the Southwest Regional Spaceport. Why it's a "regional" spaceport, I don't know. What, you fly into space to get to El Paso? Gear-head magazines such as Popular Science have been writing about the spaceport as if it's the most rational thing in the world. Yet Burt Rutan won the X Prize for the first private suborbital flight less than 18 months ago. Deciding to build a spaceport now is like reading the next-day headlines about the Wright brothers' first flight and deciding to build a municipal airport. "I like to think of legacy issues," Richardson says. He's on the phone, talking about how he made a gut decision to go after the spaceport. He didn't do market studies or focus groups. Didn't wallow in spreadsheets and PowerPoint slides. The state had a $500 million surplus, Richardson says. He could've used it to go after something dull, like a Honda factory. But he got thinking about the X Prize and Richard Branson unveiling Virgin Galactic, which plans to build space-faring aircraft to take rich people on two-hour sub-orbital voyages for $200,000 a ticket, starting in 2009. The first 100 passengers have already paid their fares.

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