How an Influx of Space Travelers Could Transform One New Mexico Town

Whenever Sir Richard Branson's "spaceline" is finally ready for business (soon, he says), Truth or Consequences will be the first place to notice. 

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Reuters

The New Mexico town that renamed itself after a 1950s game show is bracing for a more physical change this year, thanks to Sir Richard Branson and a nearby spaceport.

Located about 30 miles from Truth or Consequences, New Mexico (population 6,451), Spaceport America is a $212 million publicly subsidized facility located in the Jornada del Muerto desert basin. Designed by Sir Norman Foster, it was built with the intention of sending civilians on commercial flights into space. The facility was officially declared open in 2011 and christened by Branson himself.

But his company, Virgin Galactic, still hasn't been able to take off yet thanks to delays in safety testing. Branson did tell Fusion TV last month that he's “90 percent convinced” his spaceline will be ready to start taking passengers 65 miles away from earth and back in 2014. Once Virgin Galactic is up and running, with plans to eventually launch as many as 700 flights a year, "T or C" (as it's known locally) expects to see an extra 200,000 annual visitors. With tickets estimated at around $250,000, many of these wealthy visitors will likely want more luxurious accommodations than T or C currently provides.

Before Branson's space dreams, the town formerly known as Hot Springs was most famous for being the first town to answer Ralph Edwards's challenge to rename themselves after his game show. Also known for its stunning southwestern natural landscape, quirky cultural scene, and modest architecture, some locals are worried about what a busy spaceport will mean for their town. While the renaming decision in 1950 meant hosting Edwards's show and receiving him annually for a parade in his honor (they still celebrate "Fiesta" every May), there's concern that Branson's impact on the town could result in a loss of identity. "We don't want a 5-star hotel in downtown," Mayor John Mulcahy told CNN last month.

According to Albuquerque Journal, Virgin Galactic says it has more than $80 million in deposits from about 680 customers ready for take off already.

A man carries a broken bicycle past the town boundary sign in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico May 1, 2014. 

(REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)

A display in honor of radio quiz show host Ralph Edwards, whose show the town was named after, is seen in Geronimo Springs Museum in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico May 3, 2014. 

(REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)

A hut is seen in the middle of a field outside Spaceport America near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico May 1, 2014. (REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)
A motel displays a neon vacancy sign in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico May 1, 2014. (REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)
Val Wilkes, 54, (L) and her wife Cydney Wilkes, 56, stand outside their motel, the Rocket Inn, in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico May 2, 2014. The world's first purpose-built commercial space base and soon-to-be site of the first space flights with Sir Richard Branson's Virgin (REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)
Misty McArthur, 48, from Ruidoso, New Mexico, soaks in the hot springs at Sierra Grande Lodge & Spa in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico April 30, 2014. (REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)
Jessie Springer, 26, rides her horse in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico May 3, 2014. (REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)
People dance to a band during the annual Fiesta in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico May 3, 2014. (REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)
Artist Roy Lohr, 69, sits in a "spaceship" he built in his back yard from wine and beer bottles in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico May 2, 2014. (REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)
Bill Morine, 87, watches the annual Fiesta parade go by in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico May 3, 2014. (REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)
Zaryah Muller, 9, (L) and Esteban Edwards, 7, walk in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico May 2, 2014. (REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)
An overall view of the town of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico May 1, 2014. (REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)

Top image: Spaceport America's Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space Building is seen near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico May 1, 2014. 

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