Thursday, July 06, 2006

Miami: The World's First Spaceport?


Sir Richard Branson is looking for a city to launch Virgin Galactic. It would be cool to be the first city in the world to have the first spaceport to send passengers into space on a regularyly scheduled basis. Since he has a home here, maybe we have a chance. Florida, afterall, is where science fiction first launched a man to the moon in Jules Verne's "From The Earth To The Moon" (1865). Verne figured the best and safest spot on the planet was Tampa. That's because Miami was still only a word in Miccosukee that meant "that place," a trading post at the mouth of a river.

Well, Miami could become "that place" for regularly scheduled flights into space out of Miami International Airport if city, county, and state reps made an effort to persuade Sir Richard to launch his new enterprise here. Unlike the rocket launches at Cape Canaveral-- which ironically are directly opposite Verne's Tampa launch site-- Virgin Galactic will take off and land on an airport runway. Although the flights are sub-orbital, it's still space, man.

Who can afford them? Not me and probably not you but who cares. It's the idea that's important. One of the things that would make basing Virgin Galactic in Miami a success would be the synergy developed from the Island Gardens megayacht marina. Think about it. It's those guys who will be able to afford these flights. The space port will attract them to Miami where they can catch a rocket into space and return in time to board their yachts to watch the sun set behind the new towers fronting Biscayne Boulevard. Plus, there are at least two more spin-offs in the synergy: owners of mega-yachts spend an average of $140,000.00 on their ships while in port and most owners are leaders of industry who, seeing how wonderful Miami is, may decide to move their companies here. As far as I'm concerned, it's a win-win situation all the way around and it's worth the effort to woo the Knight. That's my opinion. What's yours?

Update August 17, 2006:
I must have been out of town or something, but I missed the story that Virgin Galactic struck a deal with the state of New Mexico to build a $200 million spaceport on state land. Say what? The undated news release on the Virgin Galactic website also shows the company's way-cool logo designed by Philippe Starck. Again, this looks like another missed opportunity for Miami and the county and the question I again raise is, where was the Beacon Council? According to the website, one reason they chose New Mexico is because it affords an immense amount of land-- 27 square miles of mostly scrub, cactus, and desert. They consider this "ideal" because it has "low population density." Well, we have the Atlantic Ocean and, lest we forget, the Everglades where a single runway has already been built. Back in the seventies, there was a plan to build another airport west of MIA to accomodate increasing air travel. It was shot down by environmentalists after one runway was built. That runway is still kept viable for emergencies and is being used on a regular basis for touch-and-go pilot training. Too bad no one thought of approaching Virgin Galactic with that in mind. Going into space from New Mexico? First show me where it is and then tell me how many mules it will take to get me and my luggage to the launch pad.

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