for National Geographic News
Editor's note: As of Friday, April 6, with all votes tallied, supporters of a tax to fund the spaceport outnumbered opponents by a very slight margin. But that count is unofficial until certified by county commissioners, which is expected Tuesday, April 10.
The question being put before voters today in Doña Ana County, a sleepy, scrubby swath of the New Mexico desert, is a novel one. They must decide whether to levy a new tax on themselves to help build the world's largest spaceport.
The 0.25-percent tax would cost each resident approximately $2.50 a month to help build Spaceport America, which would be located near Upham in southern Sierra County, about 45 miles (72 kilometers) north of the Doña Ana county seat of Las Cruces (New Mexico map).
The site is now just a concrete pad and a pair of trailers most often visited by grazing cows. But spaceport proponents envision a world destination bustling with space tourists and frequent rocket launches.
Meanwhile, a strong block of opponents says that residents of Doña Ana—one of the poorest counties in one of the poorest states in the U.S.—shouldn't have to subsidize something they will probably never use. Currently tickets for space tourism flights go for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"It is going to be very close," said Bill McCamley, a Doña Ana County commissioner.
A Rare Opportunity
In many regards, southern New Mexico is a perfect spot to build a spaceport—and it has nothing to do with the well-known stories about alien landings and frequent UFO sightings.
The state boasts 340 days of crystal-clear skies, a sparse population, and commercial-free airspace over the military's White Sands Missile Range, which is adjacent to the site of the proposed spaceport.
The project's advocates, including New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, see an unprecedented opportunity to propel this part of the state into the future.
Their hope is that the area would become a hub for the burgeoning commercial space industry.
Already, they have some positive signs that companies want to bring business to southern New Mexico.
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