One Small Step for Man, One Giant Leap for Corporations

Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Spaceport America (Photo: AP)
Once the space shuttle Atlantis completes its final mission this week, America’s space program will shift from a purely government-run operation to a partially for-profit endeavor by corporations.
With the costs of space travel difficult to fund in lean budget times, Washington has decided to take a back seat to companies like Boeing and Virgin Galactic seeking to develop commercial vehicles that can reach earth orbit. Hitching a ride on private rockets won’t be cheap, not at prices of $200,000 for a single person to buy a ticket into space.
But it’s this very expense that has attracted the private sector into assuming a prominent place in America’s future beyond Earth.
It also helps that the state of New Mexico has been willing to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in building an airport for spaceships called Spaceport America.
As of February, 400 people had put down flight deposits totaling more than $55 million, although no launch dates have been formally set. One Virgin Galactic official estimated it could be two years before the first flight.
Located near the small town of Truth or Consequences, Spaceport America has already gobbled up $200 million in taxpayer funding. It was supposed to be open this year, but infrastructure problems have delayed its completion and promised jobs have yet to materialize.
The road from the spaceport to Las Cruces remains unpaved, effectively cutting it off from the city and Dona Ana County. Karen Perez, a county commissioner, said local construction firms were outbid by larger companies, some from outside the state.
“It was the very beginning of the recession, and people were worried about how they were going to survive. This looked like it was going to give us some sort of immediate return on our investment,” she said. “We're still waiting to see a return.”  
-Noel Brinkerhoff, Ken Broder
New Mexico’s Bet on Space Tourism Hits a Snag (by Dan Frosch, New York Times)


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