Inside the Capitol

Monday, March 06, 2006

3-13 Spaceport Buzz Continues

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- The spaceport buzz continues, with legislative leaders helping out as cheerleaders despite lingering reservations on the part of some of their colleagues and many of their constituents.
Those misgivings likely will be heard when communities begin debating an increase in gross receipts taxes to provide the local support the Legislature wants to see.
A spaceport is an exciting prospect but many are asking whether a state as poor as ours should be making what amounts to venture capital investments in movies, Eclipse airplanes and a spaceport.
Perhaps it is a justifiable use of our burgeoning permanent funds that are some of the largest in the nation. Just collecting interest off them may not be the way to ever get us out of our hole. Maybe it's wise to venture into areas that promise high wage jobs and income to the state.
We know we won't be alone in the spaceport business. Gov. Jeb Bush was traumatized to lose Virgin Galactic's business to New Mexico. He has since invited owner Richard Branson to Cape Canaveral and extracted comments from him that he envisions some flights from there. Bush is now asking his legislature for $55 million to offer incentives and build structures for commercial use.
Then came the announcement that Space Adventures, the company that sent the first two passengers to the International Space Station, plans to build a $265 million spaceport in the United Arab Emirates, which will make an initial investment of $30 million in the project.
But enough of that. It appears this flight is on its way and the hoopla has begun. Actress and cosmetics tycoon Victoria Principal stood next to Gov. Bill Richardson in Santa Fe and announced that she has bought a ticket on the first of Virgin Galactic's space shots. The announcement was well covered by movie magazines and TV shows.
Principal noted that she goes in for daredevil adventures. She's a hang glider, paraglider, bobsledder and race car driver. We need to hook her up with our former governor, Gary Johnson, who is recovering from a paragliding accident.
In her announcement, Principal said she isn't worried about g-forces or the effects of weightlessness. Her main concern is what to wear for an event that she knows will be very well publicized.
Other celebrities who have expressed interest are expectant parents Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, William Shatner, Sigourney Weaver, Paris Hilton and physicist Stephen Hawking.
There's also another way to get into space. Several companies are now launching space funerals, and they're becoming more affordable. Although Captain Kirk hasn't plunked down his money yet for a ride on Virgin Galactic, Star Trek creator, Gene Roddenberry's ashes were shot into space along with 23 others in 1997. And Scotty will be beamed up later this month.
With so many companies getting involved in the space-funeral business, one of them is sure to want to locate eventually at New Mexico's spaceport.
The rocket races we talked about last month received some excellent publicity in the February issue of Popular Science. The races are designed to be as much like NASCAR races as possible, including several pit stops in every race.
The rocket racers will debut in October at the X Prize competition at the Las Cruces airport and in 2007 will begin racing at venues around the country in 2007. The championships will be in Las Cruces.
New Mexico's Harrison Schmitt, the only geologist to walk on the moon, still is pushing his idea of mining the lunar surface for fuel. He now has a book "Return to the Moon: Exploration, Enterprise and Energy in the Human Settlement of Space." While on the moon, he collected a sample of helium, which he says has a unique structure that can be converted into fuel for nuclear fusion.
Although New Mexico's spaceport will be at Upham, north of Las Cruces, Truth or Consequences is doing its best to get into the act. It now has signs at each end of town proclaiming itself the future site of the spaceport and directing traffic to its two Interstate-25 exits.
MON, 3-13-06

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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