In a blunt letter of resignation to the New Mexico Spaceport Authority Board of Directors, outgoing Executive Director Rick Homas said that the $210 million effort to bring commercial space to the state requires a “complete commitment” from new Republican Gov. Susana Martinez to succeed:
“As of January 1, the Martinez Administration owns Spaceport America and all of its potential. The change that is taking place today is all part of taking ownership, and preparing for the challenges and heavy-lifting that lies ahead.
“Now that we have the spaceport nearly built, the harder work begins — we have to attract the customers, the operators, the manufacturers, suppliers and the R & D. We have to turn Spaceport America, and the surrounding communities, into a major visitor destination. We have to BE the leader of this new commercial spaceflight industry. All this is possible, but only if the Governor leads the way. She has to believe in the project and its massive potential to create jobs and impact education. She has to become its biggest champion and rally her Administration to support this effort. There is no middle ground â€“ nothing short of complete commitment from Governor Martinez and her Administration will allow this project to achieve its full potential, which is the promise we made to the citizens of New Mexico, and particularly the citizens of Dona Ana and Sierra counties who taxed themselves to make Spaceport America happen.
“My hope is that Governor Martinez can quickly move beyond viewing Spaceport America as the legacy project of Bill Richardson â€“ the very best thing that can happen is for Governor Martinez to embrace this project as her own legacy. She will be the Governor who opens the first, purpose-built commercial spaceport in the world â€“ and the world will be watching.”
Homans was even more explicit in an interview with Heath Haussamen of NMPolitics.net:
â€œRight now, the spaceport authority is without a chairman, an executive director and a general counsel, and the tenure of the existing board members is up in the air,â€ he said. â€œFor a $210 million project thatâ€™s in full swing, where decisions have to be made every day, thatâ€™s not a good position, and it needs to be firmed up very quickly with credible leadership.â€
Homans called on Martinez to â€œstep up very clearly and unequivocally, and declare her support for this project and bring her entire administration behind it 100 percent, because there are huge challenges to be faced.â€
â€œWithout the support from Santa Fe that this project has enjoyed over the last five years, things can slow down or fall apart pretty quickly,â€ he said.
The desert spaceport is not only Richardson’s legacy but Homans’ as well. He was the one who helped convince the former Democratic governor to support construction of the base where Virgin Galactic will fly tourists on suborbital flights. Initial flights from the facility into space could occur within the next year.
Homans said he was given the choice of either resigning or being fired from his post. Martinez, who is a Republican, has asked for the resignation of all the political appointees of the former Democratic governor. In his letter, Homans wrote:
While I have embraced this project, it is clear that Governor Martinez is not embracing me. I understand politics, and I also understand how critical it is for her to have absolute trust and confidence in the executive leadership of the NMSA. That is a Governorâ€™s prerogative and it is necessary for Spaceport America to succeed….
On December 30, the Martinez Administration ordered me to resign, or be terminated. I informed the Administration that the responsibility to hire and fire the Executive Director rests, by law, with the Board and that I would take up the issue with the Board at the Emergency Meeting we have convened today.
Martinez has been more skeptical about the project, which will serve as a launching point for both Virgin Galactic and other space companies. In addition to replacing Homans, she has ordered an audit of spending on the spaceport and is looking for ways to significantly reduce or eliminate further state spending on the effort through commercial ventures. In a previous statement given to NMPolitics.net in October, she said:
â€œThe spaceport has an impressive potential to bring development opportunities to southern New Mexico, with high-tech, good-paying jobs leading the way. We might also anticipate benefits to our educational system as the workforce required to support this industry will be highly educated and highly trained.
â€œThe state has already contributed a substantial initial investment to the projectÂ â€“ more than half of the project construction costs to date. Given our budget realities, additional large investments would be a misguided use of our taxpayer funds. In addition, higher local taxes have been implemented on surrounding counties to help fund the construction of the project. Along with our tax increases levied by the state government, we are placing an undue burden on local residents during these very difficult economic times.
â€œState government can continue to be a partner in the spaceport project, although no longer its major financier. We must attract more industry and private business to the spaceport facility to assist with future development costs. We need to look at further expanding the scope of the spaceport beyond personal space flights at a cost of $200,000 per flight and attract other private industries willing to venture as a partner in this endeavor.
â€œAs with all major state investments, as governor, I would order a review of spaceport financing and operations to make sure we are seeing the most equitable return on taxpayer dollars and look to continue to be a partner in the project by drawing more private industry and economic development opportunities to the area to support ongoing efforts.â€