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Star power helped fuel space flight dream

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Former Gov. Bill Richardson, left, and Virgin Galactic’s Sir Richard Branson during the 2010 dedication of the Spaceport America runway. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

One thing this endeavour has had from the start is star power. Richard Branson and Bill Richardson are larger-than-life-figures with résumés to match.

In addition to eight years as New Mexico’s governor, Richardson has been ambassador to the United Nations, Secretary of Energy and chair of the Democratic National Convention, and he mounted a credible bid for his party’s nomination for president. He has hosted Mikhail Gorbachev for dinner in Santa Fe, negotiated with despots and dictators from Saddam Hussein in Iraq to leaders in North Korea, and won the release of hostages and American servicemen in Cuba and the Sudan. He negotiated with the Taliban.

He penned a book in 2013, “How to Sweet-Talk a Shark: Strategies and Stories from a Master Negotiator.”

“I’ve made deals with dictators,” he once said. “Here’s my advice for Congress.”

A regular for many years on cable news shows because of his command of policy and conversational style, he has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize four times.

Then there’s Sir Richard Branson.

The mega businessman swam with sharks to protest their killing for shark’s fin soup, and has worked to save the polar bears in Canada and endangered lemurs in Madagascar. He has a vision for democratization of space and a global system of suborbital air travel where people will take off from New Mexico and land a couple of hours later at a spaceport in Dubai or Tokyo.

Sunday’s flight is step one in that vision.

A profile in Zoomer magazine described him as the “ultimate 007 nemesis.” “With his long locks, twinkly eyes and mischievous grin, he’s like a cackling Bond film supervillain” who lives on his own island and has his own submarine.

That style has been on display here. He has rappelled down the wall of the spaceport with a bottle of champagne to dedicate the facility, lifted Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham off the ground for a selfie and is testing Sunday’s flight experience as a private astronaut.

He has millions of followers on Twitter and was quoted in the Zoomer interview as once writing that “every single business person has the responsibility for taking care of the people and planet that make up our global village … I have been convinced this is the way forward, if the planet as we know it, and life as we know it, is to survive.”

Richardson, who was on his way Thursday to distribute sneakers to Navajo kids through a foundation he has set up before heading down to the Spaceport for Sunday’s launch, is a Branson admirer, describing him as brash, bold and a tough negotiator who “tried to get New Mexico to pay for everything.”

A tough negotiator himself, Richardson said it was a “bidding war,” but after the back and forth, Branson still picked New Mexico and “Arnold (California Gov. Schwarzenneger) was mad we beat him out.”

“I’m ecstatic that Branson is gonna beat (Blue Origin’s Jeff) Bezos into space,” Richardson added. “Typical Branson. And it puts New Mexico Number One.”





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