Virgin Voyage

New Mexico Builds on Space Tourism

Spaceport America in New Mexico is ready for Virgin Galactic to move in to the "Gateway to Space" building and begin commercial tourism operations.

. Dawn breaks over the futuristic "Gateway to Space" terminal building at Spaceport America, nestled amid the mountains of southern New Mexico. More than $200 million has been spent to get the facility ready for spaceflight operations, with Virgin Galactic as the anchor tenant. But so far the investment has had relatively little impact on surrounding communities, leaving residents with mixed feelings about the venture. John Makely / NBC News

. Spaceport America's hangar has doors that can open to a width of 160 feet. The hangar can house two of Virgin Galactic's WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft and up to five SpaceShipTwo rocket planes. John Makely / NBC News

. Spaceport America's 12,000-foot runway is wide-open and ready for business, about 30 miles from the nearest town in New Mexico. John Makely / NBC News

. An unpaved road runs for 24 miles along the shortest route between Spaceport America and the big city of Las Cruces, New Mexico. Cattle roam freely across some stretches of the road, mostly oblivious to passing vehicles. John Makely / NBC News

. There's plenty of land for sale near Spaceport America, but development may prove difficult. The demand for water is already high and the supply is low. The spaceport itself has to operate as a "totally self-supporting city," says Christine Anderson, executive director of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority. John Makely / NBC News

. Lines of deposits show how low water levels have fallen at Elephant Butte Reservoir, near Spaceport America. John Makely / NBC News

. Josiah Archuleta, 2, plays on a toy space shuttle outside Sparky's Restaurant in Hatch, New Mexico, 30 miles southwest of Spaceport America. Complete with an oversized Uncle Sam, a miniature Statue of Liberty and dozens of other quirky items, the restaurant is best-known for its green chile cheeseburgers and barbecue. John Makely / NBC News

. Green chile peppers - and the stylish yellow boots of a chile vendor - add splashes of color to a roadside stand in Hatch, just down the road from Spaceport America. John Makely / NBC News

. Before the New Mexico town of Truth or Consequences took on its current name in 1950, it was known as Hot Springs. Jose Pacheco and Rebecca Escamilla from El Paso, Texas, relax in one of the pools at the Riverbend Hot Springs overlooking the Rio Grande River. Riverbend Hot Springs is just one of several spas hoping for a tourism boost from Spaceport America. John Makely / NBC News

. Jeff Dukatt, artist and owner of the Dukatt '71 store in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, hopes that visitors to Spaceport America will spend some of their money on his T-shirts and tie-dyed clothing. "I'm a capitalist," he tells an interviewer who's wearing a white shirt and plain slacks. "I'm just like you, but I don't have to wear those clothes." John Makely / NBC News

. Cactus grows on a desert hillside overlooking the town of Truth or Consequences. Some residents wonder whether Spaceport America will change the Old West character of their hometown. John Makely / NBC News

. Val Wilkes, co-owner of the Rocket Inn in Truth or Consequences, bought the motor lodge just a few years ago and is renovating it one room at a time. The place used to be known as the Red Haven Motel, but Wilkes renamed it - in part to capitalize on Spaceport America nearby. "Truthfully, I've always loved rockets, so I figure I get to use my favorite word," she says. John Makely / NBC News

. License plates from all over line the wall at the Bar-B-Que On Broadway restaurant in downtown Truth or Consequences. Tourism officials say Spaceport America could eventually bring 200,000 visitors a year to the area. John Makely / NBC News

. Steven Bleth, director of spaceport tour operations for The Space Place in Elephant Butte, looks around the darkened gift shop as he waits for a busload of tourists to return from Spaceport America. Bleth hopes business will improve once the rockets start taking off. "I think the area's going to pick up slowly," he says. "It's also going to be on Truth or Consequences to be more open to the new people." John Makely / NBC News

. The windows of Spaceport America's terminal building reflect the glow of sunrise over New Mexico's San Andres Mountains. After years of construction, the spaceport is finally ready to play host to Virgin Galactic and the glow of a rocket plane's red glare. John Makely / NBC News