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Failure to Launch: New Mexico’s Gamble on Spaceport America

The sun-bleached stretch of the New Mexico desert known as the Jornada del Muerto — the journey of the dead man — is an unlikely spot for Earth’s premier portal to another world. Yet this high desert outpost, with its empty horizon and indifferent cows grazing in the distance, is where you’ll find the two-mile long, three-and-a-half-foot deep concrete runway of Spaceport America, the first facility built as a hub for leisure travel to outer space.
Just over a decade ago, Spaceport America promised great things to the citizens of two of New Mexico’s poorest counties. So great, in fact, that residents voted in a tax hike to build and maintain it near the tiny town of Truth or Consequences (T or C). But the massive station has been an economic failure, tied to a stop-and-start commercial space industry that has failed to generate the tourism that residents were promised would help foot the bill. Perhaps more eerily, the spaceport itself has become a giant ghost town — a singular evocation of what happens when high hopes bump up against constraining realities.