Richard Branson’s flight sparks new optimism in New Mexico | Oklahoma News



TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES, NM (AP) – With Virgin Galactic making its most prestigious test flight to date with boss Richard Branson on board, it’s only a matter of time before paying customers have their chance and New Mexico is fulfilling a dream that has spanned decades in the making.

Former Governor Bill Richardson has been among those monitoring the progress of the space tourism company since he and his team recruited the British billionaire in New Mexico. The two shook hands on a promise: Branson would build the world’s first commercial space line for tourists, and New Mexico would build the spaceport.

To naysayers who thought it was a boondoggle and a waste of taxpayer dollars, Richardson said, “You were dead wrong. You have to have a vision for the future, and it’s going to happen, and it’s going to be awesome. “

The two-term governor was among those delighted to see Branson and his teammates rocket to the edge of space on Sunday. About 500 guests – including celebrities, Virgin Galactic customers, politicians, and a group of students – watched just outside Spaceport America’s terminal, while others across New Mexico hosted shows. surveillance nights and people around the world listened to a livestream.

Rick Homans, the Secretary of State for Economic Development who led the initial negotiations with Virgin Galactic, was among the attendees. He acknowledged that it has been a long and difficult road that began with many unknowns for both the state and the space tourism company.

Was it worth it? Without a doubt, he said.

“Look over here,” he said on Sunday. “The world’s attention is now on Spaceport America and the industry that could develop here. And I think we’re at the very beginning of something so much bigger right now, and so this investment is going to pay off in decades to come. “

Residents of Truth or Consequences, an eclectic desert community about 30 miles (48 kilometers), are thrilled to be on the map again. The town first obtained the notary in 1950 when it agreed to change its name from Hot Springs to Truth or Consequences in a publicity stunt organized by a radio show of the same name.

Still, many residents are tempering their optimism as the space tourism business has taken nearly two decades to take off and it’s unclear how often Virgin Galactic will fly paying customers to the edge of space and whether any related expenses. to these brief returns. round-trip travel will spill over to traders and other businesses in the city.

They also asked how many space fans and other spectators would be drawn to the area, as security is high at the spaceport and tours are considered expensive by some.

Others have mixed feelings about paying additional taxes to help fund the spaceport, saying their community is still in urgent need of infrastructure improvements, namely a better drinking water system. . There is also a lack of housing for residents, let alone adequate housing for tourists.

“Our taxes are used to pay for the roads to get there and everything, so it would be nice if we could actually benefit from it,” said Patty Lane, who helps run a gift shop in the town of about 5,900 people. . “We are a small community. We need this.

Lane said it’s clear that developing a viable commercial space line has become a competition, and she hopes this will spur more innovation and more aerospace companies to consider moving to the state. Only then, with more private investment, can the industry really take off in New Mexico, she said.

Senior government officials are looking for the same. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and Economic Development Secretary Alicia J. Keyes said the next step would be to push Virgin Galactic to relocate its manufacturing operations to New Mexico, as more rockets will be needed in the future.

While Sunday’s flight helped promote Virgin Galactic, state officials said it also gave millions of people around the world a peek at New Mexico.

Lujan Grisham has claimed that there are potentially billions of dollars at stake as the space industry grows – from science and technology investments to tourism spending.

“We absolutely want more companies to identify New Mexico as their headquarters,” she said, adding that the space industry could help stabilize the state’s economy.

It’s a battle that many governors have faced in states where the oil and gas industry is a key economic driver and a major source of income for education and other government programs. Richardson said one of his goals during his tenure was to build another industry, and that’s why he took on Branson and Virgin Galactic.

LaRene Miller was busy Monday getting visitors to sign the guestbook at the T or C Visitor Center, where a wing of the building is dedicated to Spaceport America. About half of the 15 visitors over the past day included those passing through town to see the spaceport or glimpse the Branson flight.

A group bought some souvenirs. Another woman asked about the trip to the site.

They had all watched the launch via the livestream or had stepped outside to see the contrails.

Jeffre Dukatt, who runs a t-shirt shop at Truth or Consequences, is one of the many residents who have been waiting for years for the spaceport promise.

“I got to see it in real life,” he said, describing his view from the city of the ascending rocket plane. “It was as if the moon was walking towards me.”

With two test flights remaining, Dukatt and others are hoping they won’t have to wait that long for the next leg.

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