3 December 2008
News - Tourism (Bad)
Spaceport America Loses Tax Increase Referendum
Executive sees this as setback, not failure
by G B Leatherwood
Usually no means no, but not to the folks building Spaceport America, a commercial spaceport currently in development and earmarked for space tourism. In fact, Steve Landeene, executive director of the New Mexico Space Authority (NMSA), viewed the loss of a tax increase referendum in Otero County, New Mexico, that would support Spaceport America as little more than a temporary setback.

Voters had to decide whether or not to authorize a 1/8 of 1% gross receipts tax on "want" items for the next ten years to contribute to the funding of Spaceport America. (Taxes on "want" items go to nonessentials rather than to necessities.) Erin DeLuna, promotions and membership director of the Alamagordo Chamber of Commerce, told SpaceFuture, "Overall, on average, it would only cost one citizen of Otero County $5.00 to $10.00 per year."

So why did the referendum fail? According to DeLuna, "Well, I would say it did not fail, it just did not pass this time around. The election results showed that 47.72% of Otero County citizens were FOR the tax. This is simply a set-back, if you will, for Spaceport America, and for that matter, Otero County as well."

In discussing the status and future of Spaceport America with Charles Comer, host of KRWG-TV "Mind Your Business" on October 17, 2008, days before the election, Landeene said repeatedly "…This is not about building a launch pad."

He described the effort of NMSA as a three-part project:

The first part is, of course, construction of the spaceport, which means hundreds of jobs in construction, maintenance, and future operation of the facility. Included in the overall plans are spaces for aviation and space-related research and development; support services such as fuel storage and transportation; aircraft and spacecraft maintenance; and other attendant infrastructure needs as mundane as roads, runways, plumbing, electrical power generation.

Second is tourism, and not just space tourism, although Virgin Galactic is the major contributor to Spaceport America and its first, most exciting tenant. For the overall tourist market, David Wilson, managing partner with Wilson Binkley Advertising and Marketing who works with NMSA and Spaceport America as public relations consultant and spokesperson, told SpaceFuture that the area around Los Cruces, New Mexico, is rich with American history, such as the atom bomb test site at White Sands and the city of Truth or Consequences, named after the Art Linkletter radio show. Then there's Holloman Air Force Base, which houses the USAF's human-rated centrifuge, and the "rocket sled" which boosted test subjects to supersonic speeds on land. And the US Army's Fort Bliss, the Army's largest installation and testing ground for advanced weapons systems. These sites should encourage tourist visits.

In fact, Virgin Galactic will not be the only space tourist attraction. Following their successful competition in the Lunar Lander Challenge, Armadillo Aerospace, teamed with the fledgling Rocket Racing League, has revealed a unique suborbital vehicle carrying two passengers in a clear bubble-like shell giving a panoramic 360-degree view of Earth and space instead of the small round portholes offered by other spaceflight vehicles.

The third function of the spaceport is education. In his TV interview, Landeene was enthusiastic about the education of those who will carry on the work of getting us into orbit, to the moon, Mars, and beyond. He described applied science classes, for example, at the high school level, where students would be engaged in projects related to the physics and engineering of spaceflight, then take their results to the spaceport to test them. Younger students would be challenged with visions of their own future if they applied themselves to the rigors of mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, and physics. "But the best part," Landeene said, "would be creating a future for college graduates so they could stay right here and not have to leave to practice their professions."

"It's the right time, this is the right place; this is the emerging excitement," said Wilson. But with these exciting prospects, why didn’t the Otero voters didn't pass the referendum for such a minuscule amount?

Wilson explained it this way: in two other New Mexican counties, Sierra and Dona Ana, a similar referendum had already been approved—but that was before the current economic downturn. "People here are very conservative. They voted for Bush in 2000 and again in 2004, but this time they went for Obama. We weren't able to put as much effort into selling the benefits of the spaceport as we did in the other two counties, and we believe the voters just didn't quite see the benefits to them, since Otero County and Alamagordo are farther away than the other two."

But even without Otero County, Spaceport America is over 90% funded with contracts in process right now, aggressive support from New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, and other city and county governments being courted by the NMSA. Also, the FAA has indicated that their preliminary review will be completed by December, with the critical launch license to be granted in early 2009.

So with or without Otero County, for the present at least, Spaceport America is getting closer and closer to hosting one of our most ambitious efforts to cross the border into the next frontier.

For specifics on current activities and the timeline for construction and operation, go to Spaceport America, www.spaceportamerica.com.
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G B Leatherwood 3 December 2008
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