Commercial spaceport nears completion in NM desert

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by ANGELA KOCHERGA

WFAA

Posted on September 25, 2011 at 10:14 PM

Updated Sunday, Sep 25 at 10:30 PM

Spaceport America

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SIERRA COUNTY, New Mexico — The world's first commercial link to outer space is rising in the desert of New Mexico.

Construction of the terminal and hangar at Spaceport America are nearly complete. That's where Virgin Galactic plans to launch flights carrying "space tourists," perhaps within the next two years.

"We're just about done with phase one," said Christine Anderson, director of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority. That includes the hangar, dome-shaped operations center, and the massive runway.

"Having a 10,000-foot runway and envisioning a Virgin Galactic space plane roaring down the runway and taking off is pretty exciting," Anderson said with a smile.

The State of New Mexico earmarked more than $200 million in tax money to build Spaceport America. Virgin Galactic is already encouraging passengers to book their place in space now.

Back when this was just an idea, it probably seemed like science fiction. But here it is, taking shape in the high desert of New Mexico: Spaceport America — where you or I or someone who can afford a ticket can catch a flight on a commercial spacecraft.

At $200,000 a flight, the price is too steep for Destiny Mitchell and other residents in the nearby town of Truth or Consequences. "Would I ever go? I doubt I could afford it," Mitchell said.

But New Mexico officials have promised the spaceport will pay off by attracting tourists to the isolated area.

"We are a little bit skeptical about it, but I've actually seen firsthand some of the business that it's generating," Mitchell said.

Others in the tiny town named for a 1950s game show doubt they'll benefit at all from the spaceport.

"It's for rich people, I guess," said Truth or Consequences business owner Robert Hanseck. "The people here aren't rich, and they're not going to be made rich by this, either, I don't think."

There have already been 12 launches from Spaceport America carrying payloads for commercial clients and even NASA.

Virgin Galactic has not set a date for the first passenger flight, but industry experts predict it could happen as soon as 2013.

E-mail akocherga@belo.com

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