Now that the shuttle's blasted off for the last time, attention is turning to the private space industry, and NPR has found an interesting piece of that puzzle: America’s first spaceport. The structure, under construction in a New Mexico desert, aims to be something like an airport for spaceships, and it’s already signed up Virgin Galactic as its first client. The site has a lot of advantages—it’s sparsely populated, its airspace is clear, and it’s a mile above sea level.
“We have a saying around there,” a spokesman says: “The first mile of space is free.” But the project has met with controversy. It’s already late and over-budget, and the government, which has spent $200 million on it, wants private companies to pay the rest. One county commissioner says they’re having buyer’s remorse. “It was very glamorous and exciting. And there was a lot of promises on jobs,” she says. “We’re still waiting.”