Unsurprisingly, Luxury Space Travel Down in Economic Downturn

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It's the big pill we continually have to swallow: the recession has made even the rich give up things. Important things, undeniably, but also things that suddenly seem ridiculous at their best, profligate at their worst. Vacations to Dubai. Personal yachts. Vintage Bordeaux. Policemen on horseback. Shopping sprees at Saks. These types of things.

Add government-sponsored commercial spaceflight to the potential pill-jar: Dan Frosch at the New York Times reports today that New Mexico is struggling with ways to balance the budget on a spaceport it's been building since the headier days of 2006, days when a $132 million dollar state investment in celestial tourism seemed like a better idea. Spaceport America, as the desert-based project is called, has taken over $55 million in deposits from over 400 wanna-be space-travelers while the port itself might need more construction, reports the Times, and has no clear date set for the first launch.

According to Frosch, British entrepreneur Richard Branson is currently a major investor and his Virgin Galactic has signed on to be the facilities' "anchor tenant" for twenty years, while pledging hundreds of millions of dollars to develop the necessary technology. Virgin had started taking reservations for the flight in 2005 for around $200,000 a ticket.

Some question whether the state will increasingly look toward the private sector to take over what is undeniably a risky venture, and governor Susana Martinez has vowed to privatize the project in lieu of a $450 million state deficit, without fully giving it up. "We want to be a leader in space exploration," the Times quotes Gov. Martinez as saying. "But we want to do it within our budget."

In an era when even our most fundamental institutions are not spared the unforgiving cuts of strapped state governments, it's good to know that we might not have to let this go. But it does prompt the question: what does budget space-travel look like? Will there be some sort of space-hostel created? How do diets entirely of lentils hold up in the absence of gravity?

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.