Inside the risky venture of Spaceport America

(serene music) – [Reporter] Out in the
hinterlands of New Mexico sit two very different
oases in the desert. One is this, a glittering alien complex called Spaceport America. It claims to be the world’s first purpose built commercial spaceport. And as early as next
year, the port could host its first batch of space tourists, wealthy thrill-seekers who
will ride to the edge of space for $250,000 a pop. – We’re not just building a spaceship, we’re providing an experience, a life changing experience, for folks, democratize space, let
everybody have a chance to experience it. – [Reporter] The other oasis
has a different flavor. Just a few miles down the road lies the quiet dusty town
of Truth or Consequences. The biggest business here is tourism, travelers staying at a local inn, or buying gems and
souvenirs from gift shops. It’s a frontier town,
with a slow metabolism. But if say, a massive
spaceport opens up next door, – There were, there were promises of crazy amounts of people
coming through here. – [Reporter] The commercial
spaceflight industry was worth more than $400 billion in 2018. And New Mexico isn’t the
only place looking to invest. So what happens when the
industry of the future comes to town? (mysterious music) – When the state proposed the idea of building a commercial spaceport, it’s kinda of a build it and we will come, we’ll come if you build it kind of story. – [Reporter] Spaceport
America was paid for and built by the state of New Mexico. So far, this whole facility is home to just one major tenant, Virgin Galactic. The company, founded by
billionaire Richard Branson, leases the property to
fly its space tours. The state was looking for
a new industry to champion, and Virgin was looking for a good deal on some clear airspace. – Everybody’s been super supportive, and we find really great infrastructure that we can kinda latch onto, and it’s kind of a symbiotic
relationship, right, as we grow, they can grow with us. – [Sooch] Basically we just
accelerate down the runway. (reporter screaming) (reporter laughing) – We’re gunning it down the runway with Michael Masucci, or Sooch, one of Virgin’s pilots. He’s showing us what
space tour actually means. On the day of the flight, customers will ride out
here, to board the spaceship, strapped to the underside
of a big carrier aircraft. We spoke to astronaut trainer Beth Moses, about what participants can expect. Is there any kind of pep
talk you are gonna give them? – Well so this is bespoke space flight, and each person that’s flying sort of has their own experience. I might say something
to you along the lines of congratulations, you’re about to be the first astronaut
from your home country. Or you know, your son is
going to be so proud of you, go have a blast. I don’t expect any nerves, because we will have both
been through this before, and it’s an exciting day. But if there are any nerves, you know, I’ll make silly jokes or
something, whatever is needed. (laughing) – I’m sure levity will
be very much needed. (laughing) I’m sure people
will be a little nervous. The carrier plane will climb
up to about 45,000 feet. Then, the spaceship will
drop away, ignite its engine, and shoot up to the edge of space. After a few minutes of microgravity, the ship will nose back down, and glide to the runway. Beth is one of the very few people who’ve taken this ride already. – It’s a wonderful experience, the sky is just blacker than black, and the earth is super high
definition, very bright. I found myself after my flight, telling a journalist that from above, Earth was wearing her diamonds. (serene music) – [Reporter] Right now, everything feels like a work in progress. Pilots are running drills on a simulator. – [Pilot] And then, we’ll pull it on up. – [Reporter] Engineers follow
along at Mission Control. And designers are building
out a swanky lounge that feels a little out of place in the middle of the desert. – So we have this natural
kind of connection from the runway, and the apron, and through over the kind of the. – [Reporter] Virgin’s dream
is that some time next year, the first of 600 prepaid ticket holders will arrive, drink a
cappuccino, and blast off. Virgin won’t comment on all its customers, but the rumored list includes Brad Pitt, Ashton Kutcher, and Justin Bieber. – And there are the
typical, you know, people, who’ve made a whole lotta
wealth, big philanthropists, they’re big capitalists,
good in the community. And then there’s people who’ve, you know, they’re just normal people who put a second mortgage on their
house to buy a ticket. – [Reporter] This is
key to the whole promise of Virgin Galactic, and
of Spaceport America. Big names, and big money coming through. – We’ve had some of our customers tell us they’re gonna bring two or three people to watch their flight. We’ve had some tell us they’re gonna bring two or three hundred people
to watch their flight. So that’ll be great for
the local community, impacts far beyond just us. – [Reporter] The big question is will all those people stop here, first? – Say hello, go on, say hello everyone. Welcome to Rocket Inn. (gentle music) – [Reporter] New Mexico
broke ground on the spaceport back in 2009, and in the decade since, the people of Truth or
Consequences have wondered if it will ever matter. – It’s kind of hard when you’re told hurry up and get ready,
and you have to wait. – [Reporter] Val and Cydney
Wilkes run the Rocket Inn, here in Truth or Consequences, which goes by T or C. They named the inn after all
the local aviation history, from the White Sands missile
range, to the spaceport. T or C is the closest town to the port, and stands to gain a lot from it. – They’re not just people
traveling down the road, and stopping for a bite to
eat, and a place to stay. This is a big, you know, level up. If they bring 100,000
people out for something, you know, it’s gonna overwhelm the entire state of New Mexico. (laughing) – [Reporter] So far, Val
and Cydney haven’t seen much change in town since
Virgin moved in next door. But the motel’s name has worked its magic, at least once. – There were four rocket
scientists, who were here to do something at the spaceport, and it was a very exciting event for them, and they were just so lovely, they said, “Where else would we
stay, besides Rocket Inn?” – [Reporter] When Spaceport
America was first announced, both the state and
Virgin Galactic promised it would attract hundreds
to thousands of jobs, and even more tourists. Sierra County residents
even voted in a new tax to fund the port, which is a big deal. Sierra County is one of the
poorest parts of the state, and for years, the town
has watched one opportunity after the next sail by. – They’ve always been
looking for something, to come along and save them. – [Reporter] Linda Demarino runs Main Street Truth or Consequences, a non-profit that supports
small businesses in town. So she’s got a pretty good
view of what comes and goes. – For while there was going
to be a shutter factory come, and it was gonna create all these jobs, and that fell through, and
then there was going to be this NASCAR facility,
and that fell through. So, I think a lot of people have just clumped Spaceport
America in with those things. – [Reporter] There’s reason for concern. After spending $220 million on the port, New Mexico has precious
little to show for it. And Virgin has dealt with delays
and disasters of their own. In 2014, their space plane
broke apart in midair, during a test flight,
killing a test pilot, and seriously injuring another. Has that kind of dampened
expectations from people who might’ve been excited,
and now are thinking oh, this might not actually happen? – Oh definitely, I mean
because it has been five years, so we had a lot of skepticism, you know, from some people anyway, and then since it’s taken so long, that skepticism has really grown. – [Reporter] Among some residents, skepticism is an understatement. – Some of the politicians in Santa Fe were calling it a dog and pony show, and actually they turned
out to be right (laughing). It’s a failure. – [Reporter] Robert Hanseck has run the Miner’s Claim gift
shop in town since 1981. And he thinks the spaceport
was always a weird fit for T or C. He sees a lot of tourists come through, just not for the future of aviation. – I know what motivates a town like this. People come in here and try
all kinds of weird stuff, that isn’t even tourist related. And it doesn’t go over, it
doesn’t fly, they wonder why. Well, it’s because they’re
here for the (mumbling), they’re here for the turquoise jewelry, they’re here for a, you know, tamales, and Mexican food, that’s
what they’re here for. – [Reporter] Obviously Virgin Galactic doesn’t see the spaceport as a lost cause. – We really are committed to this, this is not a fake thing with PowerPoint. We’ve got real hardware, real rockets going to space regularly. And if we just keep doing that, I think everybody’ll get right
on board and support that. – [Reporter] Virgin Galactic has big plans for the months ahead. They’re now listed on the
New York Stock Exchange, they’ve made it to space twice, and after years of operating
mostly in Mojave, California, they’re finally moving in here full time. They do appear to be on track to launch their first customers
in the summer of 2020. It might all finally be happening. – I don’t, huh, I don’t see it happening. – [Announcer] One, zero, and liftoff. – [Reporter] It’s not hard to guess what New Mexico is chasing
with the spaceport. Cape Canaveral has long been the defacto space capital of the U.S. It’s the success story of tourism, big contracts, and futuristic cache. And in the past decade, about dozen new commercial spaceports have popped up to get
a piece of the action. A small town in Georgia, for instance, is building its own vertical launch site, in the hopes of attracting
a big tenant like SpaceX. – [Newscaster] It will
bring jobs, and money to Southeast Georgia. – [Reporter] By that
measure, Spaceport America is a success, they got Virgin Galactic. But Truth or Consequences
is no Cape Canaveral. And it may never be. For our last night in
town, everyone in T or C told us to go to the local brewery, and for a Wednesday
evening, it was packed. We chatted with a few residents,
and they all had opinions on the spaceport.
– I think they’re gonna have like almost a metropolis
out there, with like a mall, and they probably will set
up apartments for them. It’s definitely going to be a tourist attraction at some point. When? I don’t think anyone really knows. – Oh I think until we get that like, necessary Richard Branson’s
in this craft, you know, I think until that moment,
I don’t believe anything. – Having been here for
that period of time, I have seen a lot of things
say they’re going to happen, and then they kinda dissipate, you know, just you know, magically
they kind of disappear. – Well, now that Branson’s
brought out his spaceship, you know, it’s a little bit more positive. – We don’t really care,
you know what I mean? I hate to say it like that,
but it doesn’t really like, if it gets built, it gets built. If it doesn’t get built, it’s just another thing that’s out there. At the end of the day,
we really don’t care. – [Reporter] By the end of the evening, one funny thing was clear, maybe someday the spaceport
will breathe new life into Truth or Consequences. But today, the brewery is
doing a lot more for the town. Assuming Virgin Galactic
gets up and running, some version of the spaceport
will eventually come to life. Richard Branson will break a bottle of champagne over something, Justin Bieber will float above us all, it’ll be a big deal, to them. Earlier, while we were gliding
around in the simulator, we actually noticed Truth or Consequences in the map projection, way down below. – [Pilot] Truth or Consequences
off the nose over there. – [Reporter] That means when
Virgin starts its flights, the residents of T or C
will sometimes look up, and see the engines of the
company’s spaceship igniting. They’ll see a bright,
curious flare in the sky. And then, they’ll go back to whatever it was they were doing. If it wasn’t $250,000, would you go? – Absolutely
– I’d think about it. (laughing) I’d probably go.

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