Texans look to space as final frontier

AUSTIN’In the 19th century, many Texas communities looked to the railroads for economic life. Today, some Texans have set their sights on outer space. A group called the Texas Spaceport Alliance is working to convince the Legislature to appropriate $3.1 million for the upcoming biennium as a preliminary step toward development of a Lone Star spaceport. Three areas of the state, the upper Gulf Coast, Pecos County and South Texas, hope a spaceport could eventually be developed in their region. The Texas Aerospace Commission selected these three possible sites from a field of 14 locations. The commission would use the requested appropriation to assist the three spaceport authorities in environment impact and engineering studies and in developing a business plan. The estimate is that a spaceport in Texas would create 7,000 indirect and indirect jobs’a potential $1 billion economic impact only slightly less powerful than a crashing asteroid. No one is likely to start a countdown to blastoff any time soon, however. Before it becomes commonplace to launch vehicles into space from diverse locations across the country, a new RLV must be developed. That’s aerospace talk for a reusable launch vehicle that would replace the space shuttle currently used by NASA. Once such a vehicle is flight worthy, plenty of work will await it. Though the U.S. manufactures three-fourths of all satellites, it launches only 14 percent of them. The rest of the launches are from Russia, China and France. The Texas alliance says some 1,700 satellites will be placed in orbit through 2007. If the state gets a commercial spaceport, it could enjoy a fair amount of that business. Also being sought this session is passage of legislation creating a trust fund to contain future appropriations and grants for actual infrastructure. Beyond that, there are even more steps in the spaceport launch sequence’federal support and landing a commercial entity with the bucks to buy, maintain and launch the reusable spacecraft. Meanwhile, back on earth’ Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff has formed an exploratory committee to look into the possibility of him running for a full term in office. One of those named to the committee was Jan Bullock, widow of two-term Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock. Two Democrats are looking at a run for their party’s gubernatorial nomination, Laredo businessman Tony Sanchez and former University of Texas football star Marty Akin. On the Republican side, it’s incumbent Rick Perry and the possibility of a run by U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. The prime Republican contenders for the lieutenant governor nomination are Comptroller Carol Keeton Rylander and Land Commissioner David Dewhurst. The primaries are still more than a year away, but 2002 promises to be an interesting year for Texas politics.

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