Jump to content

- - - - -

New Mexico’s Sad Bet on Space Exploration

3 replies to this topic

#1 status - Mobile Ghost

status - Mobile Ghost
  • Guests

Posted 03 March 2018 - 09:37 PM


Spaceport America was supposed to bring a thriving space industry to the southern New Mexico desert—but for now it’s a futurist tourist attraction, not an operational harbor to the cosmos.

Spaceport America lies about 20 miles southeast of Truth or Consequences, roughly 50 miles north of Las Cruces, and at a perpetually indeterminate moment in the near future. Although the spaceport has been flight-worthy since 2010, the first launch by its anchor tenant, Virgin Galactic, still hasn’t taken off. While the private space industry appears to be at a major turning point elsewhere in the world, its impacts haven’t quite reached the small New Mexico cities banking on its future. There aren’t many places where a spaceport like this, meant to service an international community, is feasible. Given the state’s large and controversial investment in the project, its success or failure might have broad impact on private space travel.

A New Mexico spaceport is only the latest entry in a triumphant time line of military and aerospace innovation in this southwestern state. Our video narrator speeds through Spanish colonialism and westward expansion to highlight the Manhattan Project’s work in Los Alamos, to the north, and Operation Paperclip, a secret program that recruited German scientists to the United States after World War II. Among them was Wernher von Braun, who brought his V-2 rockets to the state.


White Sands Missile Range, a 3,200-square-mile military-testing site in South Central New Mexico’s Tularosa Basin, hosted much of this work. It’s home to the Trinity Site, where the first atomic bomb was detonated, and von Braun’s rocket testing site, too. Spaceport America is positioned adjacent to the Army property, in a tightly protected airspace. That makes rocket-ship testing a lot easier.

For now, the spaceport is a futurist tourist attraction, not an operational harbor to the cosmos.

But when it’s not inviting the public to take in a spectacle, the space industry treats most of its activities as closely guarded trade secrets—so much so that the spaceport’s public financing and ownership has been deemed a major liability. This was the reason that the New Mexico legislature voted overwhelmingly in favor of a bill that gives the spaceport significant exemptions from public-records requests. The Spaceport America CEO, Dan Hicks, argued that companies that might have come to New Mexico were choosing competitor sites out of fear that competitors could glean information about their R&D through records requests. The legislature agreed; during the same session, it also allocated $10 million to Spaceport America for a new hangar and additional operations.

This is perhaps the most unavoidable and disconcerting truth of Spaceport America. The romance and promise of the American West was built, in part, on federal land grants to private corporations that promised to bring boomtowns to places previously otherwise deemed uninhabitable wastelands. Cities rose and fell with the rerouting of railroads; a major turning point in Las Cruces’ own history came when the city sold right-of-way to the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway in the 1880s, making the city part of a crucial industrial thoroughfare.


To manifest destiny’s proponents, to doubt the inevitability of technological and social progress via the railroad was tantamount to doubting the will of God. Today, questioning the value of (mostly) privately funded space development likewise feels like doubting human progress. Spaceport America isn’t all that different from the railroad and mining executives building company towns that it cites in its own promotional literature—which is to say, it uses the promise of progress as a smoke screen from very real concerns over taxpayer funding and public accountability. The romance of space distracts from the reality that at the end of the day, Spaceport America is a publicly financed resource mainly serving private companies, built on a long-stalled promise of bringing new money and a daring new tech industry to a jobs-hungry and very poor region. The price tag and PR rhetoric may differ from that of cities engaged in bidding wars over a Facebook data center or a new corporate tech campus, but concerns over public concessions to private-industry demands for secrecy and tax breaks (along with questions of whether the project’s benefits will actually be felt by residents who need them the most) remain more or less the same.


  • 0

#2 status - Guest

status - Guest
  • Guests

Posted 04 March 2018 - 11:26 AM

Maybe they should've built the place closer to Roswell. It would've been a better location to attract more visitors...


This begs the question? Where is a good place to build future spaceports when it becomes more affordable to take a ride. Out in the desert? Why not turn NASA into one?

  • 0

#3 status - Reedy Creek

status - Reedy Creek
  • Guests

Posted 05 March 2018 - 09:21 PM

Public concessions for private corporations and they get to keep their secrets in house above the law? This reminds me of how Disney managed to get public concessions out of the Florida legislature to build Disneyworld. I've heard some real horror stories about some of their security measures going above and beyond all local state or county laws in the area. This is actual government control by a corporation.  

  • 0

#4 status - Guest

status - Guest
  • Guests

Posted 05 March 2018 - 09:25 PM

Paid for by public funding.

  • 0

Reply to this topic


Similar Topics Collapse

IPB Skin By Virteq