If New Mexico Builds It, Will Space Travelers Come?

Washington Post front-page story on New Mexican voters will decide on a plan for the state’s commercial spaceport.

Come April 3, the voters of this sun-baked area near the Mexican border will have an unusual question to answer: Are they happy enough as home to some hardy cotton and chile farmers, a branch of the state university and a growing population of retirees from up north? Or do they want quite literally to blast into a very different future?

In a referendum, the people of Las Cruces and surrounding Doa Ana County will be voting on a proposal to slightly raise their county sales tax, a highly unpopular idea these days. But in return, southern New Mexico, one of the poorest regions in the nation, would jump on a fast track to hosting the world’s first all-commercial spaceport.

If the effort succeeds, a desert valley used by a handful of ranchers could become Spaceport America — a 21st-century portal for thousands of people hoping to blast into space as tourists, explorers, researchers and, maybe someday, as commuters to destinations halfway around the world.

The New Mexico plan is the first such project to be put to a public vote, but dozens of plans for orbital and suborbital private travel are making surprising progress. Many of them are the pet ideas of dot-com billionaires such as Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos and PayPal’s Elon Musk, with very deep pockets.

A prototype inflatable space “hotel” (designed and discarded by NASA) was launched by motel billionaire Robert Bigelow last year and is orbiting the globe unmanned. The private rocket company SpaceX sent its newly developed Falcon 1 craft an impressive 200 miles into space last week before it malfunctioned. And Las Cruces is home to British entrepreneur Steve Bennett, who has invested considerable funds locally in the hope that he will someday send space tourists up from Spaceport America in his low-cost, well-tested Starchaser rocket.

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