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Governor appoints Spaceport Authority board members

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has appointed three new members to the New Mexico Spaceport Authority and re-appointed three other members.

The new appointees are Ethan Epstein of Los Rancho, Peggy S. Johnson of Williamsburg and Eric J. Schindwolf of Tijeras.

Johnson is a native of Truth or Consequences and has served both as mayor and city commissioner for the city. She said she is excited about the appointment and is a big spaceport supporter.

“I supported the [Spaceport] gross receipts tax way back when,” she said. “With everything going on with NASA and Elon Musk, it’s just all happening right now.”

She said the first board meeting is coming up in a few weeks. The date has yet to be determined. Some of the most respected companies are already operating at the spaceport, she said.

Living in the Las Palomas neighborhood on top of a mesa, Johnson said her yard looks over a gap in the Caballo Mountains where Spaceport America is on the other side, “so it’s like the spaceport is in my back yard.”

In terms of economic development, she said some of the companies bring their families in, buy homes and put their children in schools. Johnson said she would like to encourage southern New Mexico residents to check out the facility and the area around T or C.

“It’s just a wonderful place,” she said. “I hope everyone gets to see it. You can go in the office in T or C and book a tour. It’s really important for people to get onto the spaceport site, and [the tour] pretty much explains everything, and the building downtown is like a mini museum.

“We have got to stay positive because it is going to be wonderful,” she said.

Reappointed members include Michelle Coons, who has a long career in banking and finance in New Mexico, most recently with First National Santa Fe and Strategic Growth Bancorp; Laura Conniff, a real estate broker in Las Cruces and owner of Leveldale Farms and Conniff Cattle Company; and Richard Holdridge, a retired Air Force Officer with a PhD in Astronautical Engineering from Stanford University.

Conniff has been on the board for four years.

“I think it is a great organization,” she said. “There were many who were not in support, but the state approved a $200 million deal. So, what I think is that we need to make it work and do it well.”

Since her tenure on the board Spaceport Authority, CEO Dan Hicks has been hired and a variety of tenants have moved to the spaceport.

“And I think very soon we will have a lift off with Virgin Galactic,” she said.

The board provides oversite, Conniff said, managing contracts with various groups that have dealings with the spaceport, like security.

“It’s a very interesting board,” she said. “I do think it’s going to make a huge difference in this community. It’s an extraordinary facility. There is a lot going on out there. Everybody should take some time and go out there.”

The Spaceport Authority is administratively attached to the New Mexico Economic Development Department. It consists of eight members; six are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the State Senate. The lieutenant-governor (or designee) and the cabinet secretary of the Economic Development Department also are members. By statute, no more than three of the appointed members can belong to the same political party.

Cabinet Secretary Alicia Keyes is the chair of the Spaceport Authority.

“The New Mexico Spaceport Authority is transitioning into a new era of operations and I look forward to invigorating the Board to support current clients and to recruit additional aerospace companies to the state and grow this exciting economic sector,” Keyes said. 

 Spaceport America is an FAA-licensed launch complex, situated on 18,000 acres adjacent to the U.S. Army White Sands Missile Range. It currently hosts flight testing and operations with Virgin Galactic, Boeing, UP Aerospace, EXOS Aerospace, HyperSciences and SpinLaunch.


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