Touring outer space

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JEB SHARP: I'm Jeb Sharp, this is The World. You'll soon be able to buy a ticket to space for a mere 200 thousand dollars. That's if Richard Branson's latest project goes according to plan. The British billionaire expects to start flying tourists into space within the next two years. His Virgin Galactic company has developed a special plane for the job. Take-offs are planned from a spaceport in New Mexico. Reporter Matthew Wells takes us to the site.


MATTHEW WELLS: Well, it's not long after sunrise, here in the southern New Mexico deserts, and a commercial test rocket's just been fired up into the sky. Well, it's a sign of things to come. Just the bulldozers and construction teams begin working earnest, and what's known around here is Space Port America.

STEVE LANDENE: My name is Steve Landene [PH?], executive director for Space Port America. In early 2011, I think you'll see those first passengers go to space. Of course Virgin's already announced the roll out of their space ship to, which will be in December this year, and then they're gonna continue their flight test program.

MATTHEW WELLS: Well, this beautiful spot where I am right now is pretty much exactly where the Virgin Galactic runway's going to be. Steve Landene promises tourists quite a ride.

STEVE LANDENE: It's like astronauts evolved. They're gonna be filling this massive wave of energy through their body, and soon, then deafening silence. They will be staring back at the blue

planet. Once they're up there, they're gonna have probably three to five minutes. So they're gonna be able to unbuckle out of their seats, and float through that cabin.


MATTHEW WELLS: Locals are gonna have to get used to the eerie sound of atmospheric monitoring machines as this Space Port grows. Firefighter, Pete Schroeder, is looking forward to it.

PETE SCHROEDER: It's gonna bring a lot of money in, a lot of jobs.

MATTHEW WELLS: And it looks like it's really happening now, isn't it?

PETE SCHROEDER: It is. A couple years ago we weren't too sure, but now it's definitely reality.

MATTHEW WELLS: Fancy taking a flight in space yourself?

PETE SCHROEDER: [LAUGHS] If I could afford it, maybe.

MATTHEW WELLS: Some New Mexicans think it's all just pie in the sky. As part of their contribution to the state's 200 million dollars, Space Port costs, the local sales tax is being raised. It was approved by a referendum, but scrap metal merchant, George Gandora [PH?], says it's a big mistake.

GEORGE GANDORA: We're in a recession, and to be spending on space ports, no, no. Lets spend it on healthy, education. We don't need to be spending money in space, when our government, the wealthiest government in the world, can afford to do it.

MATTHEW WELLS: At the state's space museum, there's already an exhibit honoring Virgin Galactic, and its partners, with hundreds of millions of dollars poured into the company earlier this month by Arab investors. It looks increasingly likely that New Mexico will be hosting a new generation of space travelers for decades to come.


JEB SHARP: That was Matthew Wells reporting from Southern New Mexico.