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Inside the risky venture of Spaceport America

Inside the risky venture of Spaceport America
(serene music) - Out in the hinterlands of New Mexico sit two very different oases in the desert. One is this, a glittering alien complex called

Spaceport

America

. It claims to be the world's first purpose built commercial

spaceport

. And as early as next year, the port could host its first batch of space tourists, wealthy thrill-seekers who will ride to the edge of space for $250,000 a pop. - We're not just building a spaceship, we're providing an experience, a life changing experience, for folks, democratize space, let everybody have a chance to experience it. - The other oasis has a different flavor. Just a few miles down the road lies the quiet dusty town of Truth or Consequences. The biggest business here is tourism, travelers staying at a local inn, or buying gems and souvenirs from gift shops. It's a frontier town, with a slow metabolism. But if say, a massive

spaceport

opens up next door, - There were, there were promises of crazy amounts of people coming through here. - The commercial spaceflight industry was worth more than $400 billion in 2018. And New Mexico isn't the only place looking to invest. So what happens when the industry of the future comes to town? (mysterious music) - When the state proposed the idea of building a commercial

spaceport

, it's kinda of a build it and we will come, we'll come if you build it kind of story. -

Spaceport

America

was paid for and built by the state of New Mexico. So far, this whole facility is home...
inside the risky venture of spaceport america
to just one major tenant, Virgin Galactic. The company, founded by billionaire Richard Branson, leases the property to fly its space tours. The state was looking for a new industry to champion, and Virgin was looking for a good deal on some clear airspace. - Everybody's been super supportive, and we find really great infrastructure that we can kinda latch onto, and it's kind of a symbiotic relationship, right, as we grow, they can grow with us. - Basically we just accelerate down the runway. (reporter screaming) (reporter laughing) - We're gunning it down the runway with Michael Masucci, or Sooch, one of Virgin's pilots. He's showing us what space tour actually means. On the day of the flight, customers will ride out here, to board the spaceship, strapped to the underside of a big carrier aircraft. We spoke to astronaut trainer Beth Moses, about what participants can expect. Is there any kind of pep talk you are gonna give them? - Well so this is bespoke space flight, and each person that's flying sort of has their own experience. I might say something to you along the lines of congratulations, you're about to be the first astronaut from your home country. Or you know, your son is going to be so proud of you, go have a blast. I don't expect any nerves, because we will have both been through this before, and it's an exciting day. But if there are any nerves, you know, I'll make silly jokes or something, whatever is needed. (laughing) -...
inside the risky venture of spaceport america
I'm sure levity will be very much needed. (laughing) I'm sure people will be a little nervous. The carrier plane will climb up to about 45,000 feet. Then, the spaceship will drop away, ignite its engine, and shoot up to the edge of space. After a few minutes of microgravity, the ship will nose back down, and glide to the runway. Beth is one of the very few people who've taken this ride already. - It's a wonderful experience, the sky is just blacker than black, and the earth is super high definition, very bright. I found myself after my flight, telling a journalist that from above, Earth was wearing her diamonds. (serene music) - Right now, everything feels like a work in progress. Pilots are running drills on a simulator. - And then, we'll pull it on up. - Engineers follow along at Mission Control. And designers are building out a swanky lounge that feels a little out of place in the middle of the desert. - So we have this natural kind of connection from the runway, and the apron, and through over the kind of the. - Virgin's dream is that some time next year, the first of 600 prepaid ticket holders will arrive, drink a cappuccino, and blast off. Virgin won't comment on all its customers, but the rumored list includes Brad Pitt, Ashton Kutcher, and Justin Bieber. - And there are the typical, you know, people, who've made a whole lotta wealth, big philanthropists, they're big capitalists, good in the community. And then there's people...
inside the risky venture of spaceport america
who've, you know, they're just normal people who put a second mortgage on their house to buy a ticket. - This is key to the whole promise of Virgin Galactic, and of

Spaceport

America

. Big names, and big money coming through. - We've had some of our customers tell us they're gonna bring two or three people to watch their flight. We've had some tell us they're gonna bring two or three hundred people to watch their flight. So that'll be great for the local community, impacts far beyond just us. - The big question is will all those people stop here, first? - Say hello, go on, say hello everyone. Welcome to Rocket Inn. (gentle music) - New Mexico broke ground on the

spaceport

back in 2009, and in the decade since, the people of Truth or Consequences have wondered if it will ever matter. - It's kind of hard when you're told hurry up and get ready, and you have to wait. - Val and Cydney Wilkes run the Rocket Inn, here in Truth or Consequences, which goes by T or C. They named the inn after all the local aviation history, from the White Sands missile range, to the

spaceport

. T or C is the closest town to the port, and stands to gain a lot from it. - They're not just people traveling down the road, and stopping for a bite to eat, and a place to stay. This is a big, you know, level up. If they bring 100,000 people out for something, you know, it's gonna overwhelm the entire state of New Mexico. (laughing) - So far, Val and Cydney haven't...
seen much change in town since Virgin moved in next door. But the motel's name has worked its magic, at least once. - There were four rocket scientists, who were here to do something at the

spaceport

, and it was a very exciting event for them, and they were just so lovely, they said, "Where else would we stay, besides Rocket Inn?" - When

Spaceport

America

was first announced, both the state and Virgin Galactic promised it would attract hundreds to thousands of jobs, and even more tourists. Sierra County residents even voted in a new tax to fund the port, which is a big deal. Sierra County is one of the poorest parts of the state, and for years, the town has watched one opportunity after the next sail by. - They've always been looking for something, to come along and save them. - Linda Demarino runs Main Street Truth or Consequences, a non-profit that supports small businesses in town. So she's got a pretty good view of what comes and goes. - For while there was going to be a shutter factory come, and it was gonna create all these jobs, and that fell through, and then there was going to be this NASCAR facility, and that fell through. So, I think a lot of people have just clumped

Spaceport

America

in with those things. - There's reason for concern. After spending $220 million on the port, New Mexico has precious little to show for it. And Virgin has dealt with delays and disasters of their own. In 2014, their space plane broke apart in midair, during a...
test flight, killing a test pilot, and seriously injuring another. Has that kind of dampened expectations from people who might've been excited, and now are thinking oh, this might not actually happen? - Oh definitely, I mean because it has been five years, so we had a lot of skepticism, you know, from some people anyway, and then since it's taken so long, that skepticism has really grown. - Among some residents, skepticism is an understatement. - Some of the politicians in Santa Fe were calling it a dog and pony show, and actually they turned out to be right (laughing). It's a failure. - Robert Hanseck has run the Miner's Claim gift shop in town since 1981. And he thinks the

spaceport

was always a weird fit for T or C. He sees a lot of tourists come through, just not for the future of aviation. - I know what motivates a town like this. People come in here and try all kinds of weird stuff, that isn't even tourist related. And it doesn't go over, it doesn't fly, they wonder why. Well, it's because they're here for the (mumbling), they're here for the turquoise jewelry, they're here for a, you know, tamales, and Mexican food, that's what they're here for. - Obviously Virgin Galactic doesn't see the

spaceport

as a lost cause. - We really are committed to this, this is not a fake thing with PowerPoint. We've got real hardware, real rockets going to space regularly. And if we just keep doing that, I think everybody'll...
get right on board and support that. - Virgin Galactic has big plans for the months ahead. They're now listed on the New York Stock Exchange, they've made it to space twice, and after years of operating mostly in Mojave, California, they're finally moving in here full time. They do appear to be on track to launch their first customers in the summer of 2020. It might all finally be happening. - I don't, huh, I don't see it happening. - One, zero, and liftoff. - It's not hard to guess what New Mexico is chasing with the

spaceport

. Cape Canaveral has long been the defacto space capital of the U.S. It's the success story of tourism, big contracts, and futuristic cache. And in the past decade, about dozen new commercial

spaceport

s have popped up to get a piece of the action. A small town in Georgia, for instance, is building its own vertical launch site, in the hopes of attracting a big tenant like SpaceX. - It will bring jobs, and money to Southeast Georgia. - By that measure,

Spaceport

America

is a success, they got Virgin Galactic. But Truth or Consequences is no Cape Canaveral. And it may never be. For our last night in town, everyone in T or C told us to go to the local brewery, and for a Wednesday evening, it was packed. We chatted with a few residents, and they all had opinions on the

spaceport

. - I think they're gonna have like almost a metropolis out there, with like a mall, and they probably will set up apartments for them. It's...
definitely going to be a tourist attraction at some point. When? I don't think anyone really knows. - Oh I think until we get that like, necessary Richard Branson's in this craft, you know, I think until that moment, I don't believe anything. - Having been here for that period of time, I have seen a lot of things say they're going to happen, and then they kinda dissipate, you know, just you know, magically they kind of disappear. - Well, now that Branson's brought out his spaceship, you know, it's a little bit more positive. - We don't really care, you know what I mean? I hate to say it like that, but it doesn't really like, if it gets built, it gets built. If it doesn't get built, it's just another thing that's out there. At the end of the day, we really don't care. - By the end of the evening, one funny thing was clear, maybe someday the

spaceport

will breathe new life into Truth or Consequences. But today, the brewery is doing a lot more for the town. Assuming Virgin Galactic gets up and running, some version of the

spaceport

will eventually come to life. Richard Branson will break a bottle of champagne over something, Justin Bieber will float above us all, it'll be a big deal, to them. Earlier, while we were gliding around in the simulator, we actually noticed Truth or Consequences in the map projection, way down below. - Truth or Consequences off the nose over there. - That means when Virgin starts its flights, the...
residents of T or C will sometimes look up, and see the engines of the company's spaceship igniting. They'll see a bright, curious flare in the sky. And then, they'll go back to whatever it was they were doing. If it wasn't $250,000, would you go? - Absolutely - I'd think about it. (laughing) I'd probably go.