New Mexico Bets On Space Race

There's not much in southern New Mexico's high desert except a lot of vacant land. But as CBS News correspondent Anthony Mason reports, a 27-square-mile patch of emptiness is touted as the "Future Site of New Mexico's Spaceport."

Rick Homans, head of the state's economic development department, envisions a landing strip and three vertical launch sites — a bustling center … not for NASA's astronauts, but for ordinary passengers like us.

"In about three years," says Homans, "this landscape will be completely transformed."

Billionaire Richard Branson's "Virgin Galactic" plans to launch its rocket gliders from the New Mexico site, sending tourists into sub-orbital space — and $200,000 a pop. He already has 150 customers signed up.

"We're going to create this giant eye, which will be our spaceport in the middle of this desert," says Branson.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has agreed that his state will kick in $125 million to help build the spaceport. He says it's a good investment for New Mexico because, "potentially, it's 6,000 jobs. The potential for tourism, for jobs, for new technologies moving into New Mexico is huge."

Truth Or Consequences, N.M., the town nearest the site, has no movie theater and just one traffic light. But police chief Russell Peterson says that's changing fast.

"We're amazed at the amount of traffic that has picked up," he says. "We're lookin' at puttin' in two or three more stop lights, and we haven't developed anything yet."

A small launch pad has already been built to test-fire a rocket this summer. It will be the spaceport's inaugural launch.

But New Mexico isn't alone in getting into the space race. The FAA is expected to grant Oklahoma a license to run a spaceport soon. California and Texas also want to get into the new space race.

However, New Mexico's location is unique. The spaceport is adjacent to the government's White Sands missile testing range — it's restricted airspace, so commercial flights won't interfere with the spaceport.

It all adds up to what Homans believes could be a billion-dollar business.

"We're betting on the second Space Age," he says. "We're betting this is going to be the launch pad and incubator for an industry that puts man in space to live, to work and to play."

New Mexico is betting that the way to the future is down a dusty desert road.