After being told it would boost their local economy, the 6,000 residents of Truth or Consequences, an impoverished town in the New Mexico desert, raised taxes on themselves to help billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson build a spaceport to launch celebrities and other wealthy tourists beyond earth’s atmosphere.

More than 700 people have bought $250,000 tickets from Branson’s Virgin Galactic, which promises to take them on a 2½-hour journey 68 miles above earth to experience a few moments of weightlessness in what privatizers of the once publicly led project of space exploration like to call the second space age.

Meanwhile, Spaceport America, Branson’s $200 million high-tech boondoggle, lies vacant and moldering in the New Mexico desert. Virgin Galactic had announced it would fly tourists as early as 2009, but after a fatal test flight and other hang-ups it will no longer speculate on when tourist flights will begin.

Guardian editor Caty Enders reports of the hope-and-dreams comeback disaster:

The increased taxes, adopted across impoverished Sierra County, contributed to about $5m as of 2014. Since 2009, school budgets have been cut and an estimated $26m in necessary repairs to the town’s water system has been put on hold. There’s no more money to pay for it.

The average annual income of residents is just $15,000 per year, one third of residents live below the poverty line, and just 20% over the age of 25 have obtained a bachelors degree.

The Spaceport is losing an estimated $500,000 per year, according to an investigation by KRQE. Among other maintenance and upkeep costs, the state spends about $3m per year on premiere firefighting services for intermittent rocket testing, despite the fact that the commercial space programs that were supposed to lease the facility have all pulled back their launch plans.

New Mexico is not the only state with a horse in the commercial space race; Florida, California, Texas, Virginia have all won bids to feather billionaire’s space dreams with financial incentives. New Mexico just happens to have jumped in with both feet, building a whole facility for VirginGalactic and asking for little in return.

Continue reading here.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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