Senior Citizens Being Pushed Aside for Spaceport America Visitors Center

Oh God! As if Spaceport America needed more bad publicity.

Truth or Consequences has voted to rent out a large part of its senior citizens center for a welcome center where tourists will gather to be bused to Spaceport America.

So, let me see if I’ve got this straight:

New Mexico taxpayers spend nearly a quarter billion dollars on a spaceport built for billionaire Richard Branson so he can fly his fellow billionaires and millionaire on space joy rides with the promise of vast economic benefits to the local population. Branson fails to deliver on any of it despite 10 years of effort, leaving taxpayers subsidizing a largely empty spaceport used for occasional sounding rocket launches. And now senior citizens living on fixed incomes are being pushed aside to make way for tourists to go visit a spaceport with no spacecraft.

This is not good. The crown jewel of NewSpace is becoming a cosmic embarrassment.

The plan was for off-site welcome centers in Truth or Consequences and Hatch where people would gather to get bused to Spaceport America. There would be an elaborate visitors center at the spaceport in new building.

The welcome center in Hatch has been scrapped because no one could agree on a location. The one in Truth or Consequences has been delayed due to a lack of funding. Senior citizens will now have to share their space with it. And the visitor’s center at Spaceport America will occupy part of the Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space instead of being in its own structure.

Oh, and there will be no SpaceShipTwo or WhiteKnightTwo to see for quite some time.

The one positive aspect is the welcome center at the senior citizen building will at least be in downtown Truth or Consequences, which will likely have a positive impact on businesses there. The one the New Mexico Spaceport Authority will eventually build will be out by the Interstate highway, meaning tourists might skip going into town.

So, what will the tourist experience be like? Spaceport America’s February newsletter gives a preview:

The expanded Visitor Experience is almost complete. We are making the last touches on the Fit-Out of the Gateway Gallery in the Gateway to Space building in preparation for the show content delivery and installation in mid-February. The Gallery will feature a G-Shock Simulator, many interactive kiosks and displays focused on the science behind the commercial space industry. In addition, we have several displays of archaeological artifacts from the region from the residents that lived there over 10,000 years ago. Wouldn’t they be surprised to see their home site now!

In addition, Follow The Sun, Inc, our tour operator, is enhancing the off-site departure location that will feature more displays and exhibits resulting in a more robust and exciting Spaceport America Visitor Experience. Stay tuned for the grand opening coming soon.

New Mexico officials are hoping Spaceport America will become a major draw for tourists. The spaceport’s business plan calls for attracting 200,000 visitors per year during the first full year of operation, with it becoming the top tourist destination in the state by 2018.
With commercial spaceflights still a long ways off, those projections are no longer valid. They were also dependent upon a much more elaborate visitor experience. The business plan warns that a poor experience could do serious harm to the spaceport’s tourism prospects.

Tourism relies on a critical mass of high quality activity and attraction to draw visitors to a particular place; if guests feel the activity failed to live up to their expectations, that there wasn’t enough to do, or that it wasn’t “worth the visit,” then poor word-of-mouth and travel website reviews will swiftly kill a new destination.

The spaceport authority is strapped for cash due to years of delay by Virgin Galactic. So, it doesn’t have a whole lot of other options but to launch the enhanced tourism program and deal with any negative reviews down the road.