Spaceport needs Martinez’s support, Homans says

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A conceptual drawing of Spaceport America. (Courtesy photo)

Suborbital flights from Spaceport America are expected to begin this year or next, but the current upheaval could cause the project to “slow down or fall apart pretty quickly” if Gov. Susana Martinez doesn’t “clearly and unequivocally” declare her support, the outgoing spaceport director says.

Rick Homans resigned from his job as the spaceport’s executive director on Wednesday during an emergency meeting of the Spaceport Authority, but not before reading pointed remarks about the Martinez administration’s demand that he resign.

“While I have embraced this project, it is clear that Governor Martinez is not embracing me,” Homans said during the meeting.

“…My hope is that Governor Martinez can quickly move beyond viewing Spaceport America as the legacy project of Bill Richardson,” he said. “The very best thing that can happen is for Governor Martinez to embrace this project as her own legacy. She will be the governor who opens the first purpose-built commercial spaceport in the world – and the world will be watching.”

It was Homans who sold former Gov. Richardson on the vision of building the $210 million spaceport in the remote desert northeast of Las Cruces. Richardson and Homans worked hard to convince the Legislature and local counties to provide funding.

Detractors view the spaceport as a taxpayer-funded platform for Virgin Galactic to fly rich people into space. Supporters say it’s much more than that, and talk about making Southern New Mexico the center of the commercial space industry in North America. With that has come a comprehensive effort to attract jobs and focus educational programs at the high school and college level on the space industry.

Homans campaigning for a tax increase to help fund the spaceport in 2007. (Photo by Heath Haussamen)

The spaceport has no bigger cheerleader than Homans, who said in an interview that he is concerned about the future of the project.

“Right now, the spaceport authority is without a chairman, an executive director and a general counsel, and the tenure of the existing board members is up in the air,” he said. “For a $210 million project that’s in full swing, where decisions have to be made every day, that’s not a good position, and it needs to be firmed up very quickly with credible leadership.”

Homans called on Martinez to “step up very clearly and unequivocally, and declare her support for this project and bring her entire administration behind it 100 percent, because there are huge challenges to be faced.”

“Without the support from Santa Fe that this project has enjoyed over the last five years, things can slow down or fall apart pretty quickly,” he said.

Martinez’s views on the spaceport

Personnel issues aren’t the only reason people like Homans are concerned about the project. Earlier this week, Martinez was quoted by the Las Cruces Sun-News as saying her administration plans to audit spaceport funding. She was also quoted by the L.A. Times as saying she is looking to privatize operations at the spaceport.

Asked about Martinez’s views on the spaceport, spokesman Scott Darnell pointed to a prior statement from Martinez published by NMPolitics.net in August:

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“The spaceport has an impressive potential to bring development opportunities to southern New Mexico, with high-tech, good-paying jobs leading the way. We might also anticipate benefits to our educational system as the workforce required to support this industry will be highly educated and highly trained.

“The state has already contributed a substantial initial investment to the project – more than half of the project construction costs to date. Given our budget realities, additional large investments would be a misguided use of our taxpayer funds. In addition, higher local taxes have been implemented on surrounding counties to help fund the construction of the project. Along with our tax increases levied by the state government, we are placing an undue burden on local residents during these very difficult economic times.

“State government can continue to be a partner in the spaceport project, although no longer its major financier. We must attract more industry and private business to the spaceport facility to assist with future development costs. We need to look at further expanding the scope of the spaceport beyond personal space flights at a cost of $200,000 per flight and attract other private industries willing to venture as a partner in this endeavor.

“As with all major state investments, as governor, I would order a review of spaceport financing and operations to make sure we are seeing the most equitable return on taxpayer dollars and look to continue to be a partner in the project by drawing more private industry and economic development opportunities to the area to support ongoing efforts.”

Darnell said the governor sought the resignations of all Richardson political appointees, not just Homans. He said the administration is reviewing the “activities and membership” of the Spaceport Authority and “assessing what changes need to be made.”

‘Dealt with as a special issue’

Homans said he understands that these are tough times financially, but he said the spaceport needs to be treated differently than the rest of state government.

“This project is really an anomaly in state government, because this project is ramping up in a big way and the rest of state government is ramping down in a big way,” he said. “So this needs to be put on the side and dealt with as a special issue with special attention, and that leadership has to come from the governor.”

9 thoughts on “Spaceport needs Martinez’s support, Homans says

  1. Spaceport….Why are we subsidizing the cost of the 300 plus riders to the tune of over $530K each? I am sure not one of them is economically disadvantaged, just the opposite. Good riddance Bill and Rick….. I feel violated!

  2. Las Cruces has had an International Airport for over a decade. How many international flights has it seen?

    A name does not a Spaceport America make; especially when you are limited to sub-orbital flight.

    If it can’t be privatized in these bad economic times and wasn’t privatized in the best of times when will Dona Ana and Sierra County get out from under their special tax burden?

    Science fiction buffs got ahead of themselves with SpacePort America.

  3. This is on the space camp from the Travel Snitch blog in an interview:

    “The interstellar adventure takes place near Roswell, New Mexico with six nights luxury accommodation at the Virgin Galactic Space Camp. Every morning you will be taken by helicopter to the training base where you will undergo a full six-day programme of medical examination, G-force tolerance training, flight-simulator instruction and guidance from space experts on how to get the most from your unique experience.

    The preparation programme also includes negative gravity training in a specially modified Lear Jet. The evening itinerary includes the chance to dine with astronauts over a memorable culinary experience painstakingly prepared from a carefully balanced menu.”

    http://www.travelsnitch.org/categories/news/virgin-galactic-makes-first-crewed-flight/

    So where will this ritzy Space Camp be? It should be Las Cruces!

  4. On the good side and being from Las Cruces, I can at least know that some people enjoy riding the Rail Runner on my dimes.

  5. By the way where will be the location of the luxurious Virgin Galactic Space Camp be located? I find no info. Every passenger is required to spend three days at the Space Camp! I suppose it will not be Las Cruces.

  6. Interestingly Will Whitehorn, president of Virgin Galactic, just resigned in December and is leaving this month. He is only 50 – a little early for retirement. What is going on at Virgin Galactic?

  7. This is a good idea that just went the wrong way and became garbage. Can it be saved? Maybe, but not with Richardson flunkies and cronies in charge doing everything the wrong way,as they ahve from the start. We should have gone after SpaceX, not Branson’s billionaire carnival ride company. But, of course, Bill and Richard are bird’s of a feather, only Branson has a bigger ego than Bill, if that is even possible. Cut out the taxpayer subsidies, make them pay it back now, and see if the little carnival ride company can make it. If not, dump the garbage and start over with a viable operation, not a bunch of media hyped, smoke and mirrors.

  8. I have a great deal of respect for Governor Martinez and her efforts to bring New Mexico back into a more stable economic situation. However! If she fails to support Spaceport America and lets it go by the way she will loose the opportunity of being able to bring New Mexico out of the dark ages and into the light.

    She must understand that while this maybe a legacy project from the Richardson era, it can also be her legacy for the future of the state and its people. Spaceport America is the first link in a long chain that will provide economic stability, jobs, education, and industry. Privatising it at this point would be useless since the current economic situation would not allow for such a move.

    Spaceport America represents the future of not only New Mexico, but the rest of the nation and ultimately the planet. The technology that will come out of Spaceport America will create advances in new energy sources, technology, and can and will bolster New Mexico’s pride in itself and its people.

    Dispite the political shanagans that have been taking place over the past two years, if the governor appoints a director with the single minded goal of getting Spaceport America operational and gives him or her the authority to negociate with space oriented industry, not only can Spaceport America become a major source of income for the state, but it can with the support of not only the state legislature, but our members in Congress, become the center of a new and viable industry.

    New Mexico and the nation need Spaceport America in order to reach into the future and graqb its opportunity now!

  9. I think I am behind this Spaceport. I think it fits in well with WSMR and PSL in Cruces as well as Sandia National Labs and LANL.

    I do wonder the payback though? Any analysis should have included a payback to all parties involved? Are there any numbers out there? Also, I think if the Spaceport does not do as well as “expected” would it be that hard to re-purpose as an International Airport? How much business (air travel revenue) is lost to El Paso?