Yuri Gagarin, John Glenn and Neil Armstrong. Voyager, Apollo and the Space Shuttle. These are but a few of the people and spacecrafts that have gone down in the annals of man's history beyond the Earth. New Mexico governor and presidential candidate Bill Richardson may soon find his name listed alongside the pioneers of human space travel.

But what does a governor have to do with space? A better question in this case is what does space have to do with a governor? In Richardson's case, he believes space tourism is an emerging market his state cannot afford to miss out on. As Government Technology reported in January, Richardson has committed his administration and a good deal of taxpayer money to what he hopes will become a hugely profitable new industry.

"Getting in on the ground floor of brand new industries where New Mexico has a natural advantage is a key part of our economic development strategy," Richardson said. "Among the targets: digital media, renewable energy, nanotechnology, and what we call the 'second space age.' That's why we are moving forward with plans to build Spaceport America, which will be home to Virgin Galactic, as well as the X Prize Cup, Rocket Racing League, Starchaser, UP Aerospace and many others to come."

Spaceport America represents Richardson's plan to transform his state into the global capital of commercial space flight. In December 2005, Richardson announced New Mexico's partnership with Virgin Galactic, a subsidiary of the Virgin Corp. The state will build the spaceport and Virgin Galactic will locate its world headquarters there.

"We envision Virgin as the first of many spaceport tenants, and we see the industry expanding beyond space tourism," said Richardson. "This new space industry has the potential to have as big of an impact on our society as the personal computer industry or the Internet. A smart, prudent investment at the beginning will pay dividends for future generations of New Mexicans."

Space tourism and associated commercial space ventures are projected to bring thousands of new jobs to New Mexico, as well as billions in revenue. And with a $250 million commitment to build Spaceport America, there's a lot more than just people riding on these rocket ships.

"All of us involved with this project acknowledge that there is some risk involved," Richardson said. "But we also realize New Mexico has the history and natural assets to be a world leader in this emerging industry. These opportunities -- to be in on the ground floor of something so big -- don't come around every day. We don't feel like we can afford to let this opportunity pass us by."

Chad Vander Veen  |  Editor, FutureStructure

Chad Vander Veen is the editor of FutureStructure.com