In the Southern New Mexico desert a commercial spaceport is being built.  Not by airheaded new-agers or Hollywood filmmakers, but by the state's economic development authority.

Put your drink tray in the upright position and fasten your G-suit.  Virgin Galactic, the commercial space venture of billionaire Richard Branson, has already signed a 20-year lease.  It says it has received $44 million in advance bookings from 326 aspiring space tourists.  A few minutes of weightlessness will lighten your wallet by $200,000.

The project long ago stopped raising local eyebrows.  For example, a recent headline from The Las Cruces Sun-News read: “Spaceport, Animal Shelter Board Members Chosen.”  The question now, for residents of the sleepy town of Truth and Consequences, is how soon, and what’s in it for us in dollars and cents?  Beside space tourism, the potential may include research flights, space burials and satellite deliveries.

Spaceport America, a $198 million investment, is funded with state and local taxes. The first commercial payload of paying customers could launch as early as 2011, depending on Virgin Galactic’s confidence in its security protocol.  The proverbial heavens are the limit.

Image by Jedibfa courtesy of Creative Commons Licensing.