While almost everyone else came to the Spaceport America Runway Dedication on buses that took the long route up from Las Cruces, Sir Richard Branson came from above. His private jet buzzed the spaceport several times before touching down before a crowd of about 600. The plane stopped at the end of the taxiway, the door opened, and down the stairs came Branson, Gov. Bill Richardson, Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, and other high officials.
There to greet them was a delegation of local, state and federal officials whose highest ranking member was NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver. They had walked down the long taxiway to greet the British billionaire and Democratic governor who had worked together to put a $200 million spaceport in the middle of ranch land in a state primarily know for military space efforts. In case you were not in attendance, check out this “you are there” video.
The symbolism was clear — NASA is now going to the private sector, and the nexus of space is beginning to migrate west from Washington and Florida to obscure Westerns locations like Upham, Mojave and Rockwall. The tectonic shifts that are rolling through the American space program were there for all to see. Lori Garver presented the NASA viewpoint of the importance of this event succinctly and with true enthusiasm.