Lawmakers Wednesday questioned the cost, the risk and the location of a proposed first-on-the-planet spaceport to be built south of T or C at a cost to the state of $225 million. The plan from Governor Bill Richardson's administration would turn land near the tiny community of Upham, adjacent to White Sands Missile Range, into the world's first port for commercial space travel.
An agreement reached between the state and British billionaire Richard Branson has Branson's fledgling Virgin Galactic spaceline anchoring the proposed port.
Richardson has asked legislators to allocate half the $225 million cost of the project this year.
Some lawmakers questioned the Upham location, particularly the wisdom of building a new facility from scratch when the old Walker Air Force Base near Roswell remains largely unused and Cannon Air Force Base near Clovis is slated to be closed in 2009 unless it receives another mission.
"Instead, we're gonna take a quarter of a billion dollars and go build an entire new facility just because it happens to be next to White Sands Missle Range," said Representative Dan Foley, R-Roswell. "I don't see the relevancy of that."
Economic Development Secretary Rick Homans told lawmakers that the relevance of the location is it takes advantage of the missile range's unrestricted air space, allowing for an uninterrupted trajectory from the ground into space.
Homans told lawmakers that the state could be "the birthplace of the second space age" if it builds the facility, but some lawmakers are skeptical, one referring to the scheme as a "chancy venture."
Some lawmakers wondered whether needy New Mexico wouldn't be better off spending its oil-and-gas windfall on more basic items such as education, health care or more down-to-earth economic development.
In lengthy question-and-answer sessions in the Senate and House, some critics worried about runaway costs and suggested state government didn't have any business taking risks with public money.