Companies subsidiary, would be the first permanent tenant of New Mexico's Spaceport America. In July 2006, New Mexico economic development Secretary Rick Homans announced a partnership with Virgin Galactic, a division of mega-corporation Virgin, to develop Spaceport America. The $225 million facility will be built near the White Sands Missile Range -- and its already restricted air space -- in New Mexico, with $100 million coming directly from the state's coffers. The remaining $125 million will be funded through tax severance bonds and will be used to build infrastructure such as roads, water and power.

"It all comes down to new jobs and new opportunity, and that's what every state -- that's what the United States -- is trying to figure out; what's our role in this new worldwide global economy?" Homans said. "We see the birth of a new industry here and our studies -- one by the Futron Corp., an international consulting firm in aerospace, and the other from New Mexico State University -- show generally up to $1 billion in new revenue to the state of New Mexico and somewhere over 5,000 new jobs would be created by the year 2020 in this new industry, if it pans out the way we are all thinking.

"That's a transformative impact on a state like New Mexico with a population of 1.8 million people," he continued. "Those number of jobs might be a drop in the bucket in California or Florida, but to New Mexico that's a big deal, and it's worth our putting significant financial resources behind it to make that happen."

Besides the spaceport's potential economic impact, Homans said his state wants to avoid the mistakes it made when Bill Gates came to Albuquerque to start Microsoft. Back then, Homans said, the state was not ready to embrace and assist the new computer industry, nor willing to take the required risk. As a result, Gates and Microsoft fled to Washington state.

That's part of the motivation to pursue what many might consider a far-out way to spend taxpayers' money. Homans said intangibles -- such as civic pride and being at the forefront of something with spectacular potential -- also play a role.

"We see a rare opportunity to be in on the ground floor of something that is potentially huge and has a huge impact on the world, on the country, and certainly on our state," he said. "That's sort of part of the motivation too -- to send a signal worldwide that New Mexico embraces new technology; it embraces some element of risk, entrepreneurs and new ideas. And that's a very important message to send because that's what economic success in the future is going to be built on."

The idea of the spaceport has been floating around New Mexico for more than 15 years. In fact, the state has had a romance with space for decades, starting with Werner Von Braun's V2 rocket launches in the 1940s, followed by what Homans mirthfully described as "a pretty historic visit to New Mexico" -- the famous 1947 Roswell Incident in which extraterrestrials allegedly crash landed in an area ranch, only to be hauled off by nefarious government agents.

When the idea for a spaceport first came up, Homans explained, the theory was that the state ought not do anything until a new, reusable launch vehicle was developed, and had a bona fide spaceport customer.

Part of the spaceport puzzle fell into place on Oct. 4, 2004, when famed aircraft creator Burt Rutan and his company Scaled Composites, builders of Voyager, the first aircraft to circumnavigate the earth without stopping, won the $10 million Ansari X-Prize. Rutan's company captured the X-Prize for building and successfully flying the first privately constructed, reusable, manned spacecraft into space and returning safely to the earth. The Ansari X-Prize -- so named for Anousheh Ansari, the principal sponsor of the

Chad Vander Veen  | 

Chad Vander Veen is the former editor of FutureStructure.