LAS CRUCES—Patience. Gov. Bill Richardson warned Southern New Mexicans they may not see immediate benefits of their $198 million spaceport investment at a pre-groundbreaking event on Thursday, June 18.
Construction on the spaceport relied heavily on gross receipts tax increases in Doña Ana, Otero and Sierra counties. Doña Ana County residents, including Las Cruces, passed the tax referendum by only 270 votes. Sierra County, where the spaceport is located, also passed the tax, while Otero County voters turned it down.
The governor cautioned residents during his speech, telling attendees that though jobs were being created, residents “won't see the end result for years to come.”
Speaking Thursday at New Mexico State University, Gov. Richardson acknowledged the taxed counties as being crucial to the spaceport's funding and stressed the good they would reap from the venture, mostly in the form of employment opportunities. Richardson spoke briefly with the Alibi, describing what Spaceport America means for the state: “For New Mexico, it means jobs. It means space leadership for Southern New Mexico along with careers and more economic development. For children in New Mexico, it means opportunities in science and engineering.”
“For New Mexico, it means jobs.”
Gov. Bill Richardson
The topic of caution came up again when Richardson half-jokingly told the crowd that while he had accepted an offer to travel into space, he wasn't interested in boarding “the first few flights.”
Virgin Galactic CEO Stephen Attenborough described the company's progress, saying it is “very well on [its] way to becoming the world's first spaceline.” Attenborough credited New Mexicans with being “extremely tenacious” in making the spaceport happen. Virgin Galactic is the anchor tenant at Spaceport America and has signed a 20-year lease. The company has received payment from the first 100 passengers it will take into space. Seats cost $200,000 apiece. Other tenants include UP Aerospace and Armadillo Aerospace.
Several hundred residents attended the ceremonies, including many children. NASA provided displays describing space travel and handed out colorful pamphlets and visors.
A hot-air balloon (the largest in North America) shaped like a space shuttle couldn’t get off the ground. Though cloudy skies threatened to keep the it grounded, problems with the inflated airship itself prevented anyone from taking a spin. The enormous shuttle came tumbling down early in the evening with its handlers struggling to control its descent. As they ran through the crowd and through a NASA display, they shouted, “Get out of the way!” No one was hurt, and the shuttle was replaced with a run-of-the-mill hot-air balloon.
The Las Cruces event was the first of four commemorating the spaceport's groundbreaking. Following the NMSU celebration, VIPs were taken to the Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum for a private reception. The events continued Friday morning with a similar public presentation in Truth or Consequences, followed by the invitation-only groundbreaking ceremony at the spaceport site in Upham.