(Photo of Richard Branson courtesy of AP)
The Future is Now
Sir Richard Branson was in New Mexico yesterday to celebrate the official opening of Spaceport America, the world's first purpose-built commercial spaceport. Located 30 miles east of Truth or Consequences, eight suborbital missions have already been successfully launched from the site.
History of the Project
Dr. Burton Lee of Stanford University developed the idea for the commerical space transport station with $1.4 million seed money from a congressional earmark marshalled by my longtime ago boss, U. S. Senator Pete Domenici. Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson came on board with the project and in 2008, voters in two out of three adjoining counties were in favor of the space station releasing federal money for its constuction that is now completed. Virgin Galactic signed a 20-year lease as the anchor tenant for use of the hangar facilities and runways of the spaceport. The company will pay $1 million per year for the first five years in addition to payments on a tiered scale based on the number of launches.
Forward Thinking Construction
The $209 million dollar futuristic-looking terminal was one year behind schedule because of its unprecedented nature and remote location. Gerald Martin Construction Management from Albuquerque was chosen to oversee the building of the spaceport and it was designed with environmental sustainability in mind incorporating "Earth Tubes" to cool the building, solar thermal panels, underfloor radiant cooling and heating, as well as natural ventilation.
The governor of New Mexico, Susana Martinez, was on hand to give Branson the keys to the building. In this photo, Branson pops open the traditional bottle of champagne to celebrate as he rapells down the side of the building joining other performers for the festivities.
According to London's The Daily Mail, tickets to ride the White Knight Two will cost $200,000 and the two and a half hour flights will include a five minute segment of weightlessness as well as views of our planet formerly only enjoyed by astronauts. Branson and his two children will be on its maiden voyage that he wrongly predicted would take place in 2007. He says about the delay that he wants to make sure that he and his children will be brought home safely.
"We want to be sure we've really tested the craft through and through before turning it over to the astronauts who bought tickets to go up," he said, "If it takes a bit longer, we'll take a little bit longer."
The Mail reports that commercial service will start up after the company gets a license from the Federal Aviation Administration and that NASA has already signed a $4.5 million contract with the company for three chartered research flights.