Is it a spaceport, or a space ghost?

BATTLING THE CRITICS: Numerous delays by Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson have raised questions whether Spaceport America — a $212 million investment by New Mexico taxpayers — will ever be successful.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

New Mexico taxpayers already have sunk at least $212 million into Spaceport America.

But it’s been nearly three years since the facility had its grand opening, which featured billionaire Richard Branson rappelling down the fa├žade of the massive hangar in the desert of southern New Mexico. We’re still waiting for Virgin Galactic — Branson’s company and Spaceport’s anchor tenant — to make its maiden voyage.

Branson’s a good salesman and he’s lined up a host of celebrities and the well-heeled to pay between $200,000 and $250,000 for a promised to be a two-and-a-half-hour flight beyond the earth’s atmosphere, allowing passengers five minutes of weightlessness.

After postponing earlier scheduled launches, Branson told reporters last month Virgin Galactic will send commercial passengers into suborbital space from Spaceport America by the second half of 2014.

Former Gov. Bill Richardson twisted arms in the state Legislature to fund the project, and Gov. Susana Martinez — who seemed cool to the idea at first — is on board.

But as New Mexico Watchdog reported in the past month, more concerns keep cropping up. A long story this week appeared on the Buzzfeed website, calling the project “Richard Branson’s Space Tourism Fantasy.”

Will New Mexico taxpayers ever see a return on their nearly quarter-billion investment?

As editor of New Mexico Watchdog, I appeared as a panelist on “New Mexico In Focus,” a weekly public affairs program seen across nearly all of New Mexico on KNME-TV, the PBS affiliate in Albuquerque.

Here’s the video. Joining me is host Gene Grant, former state Sen. H. Diane Snyder, New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce CEO Laura Sanchez and Richard Rogers, publisher of Santa Fe Monthly:

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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