Branson and NM officials dedicate space terminal

UPHAM, N.M. (AP) ? With his usual flare, British billionaire Richard Branson rappelled from a balcony, shook up a bottle of champagne and took a swig while christening the world’s first built-from-scratch commercial spaceport.

In a remote patch of desert in southern New Mexico, Spaceport America is where Branson’s Virgin Galactic will stage its commercial space tourism venture.

Branson, Gov. Susana Martinez, and astronaut Buzz Aldrin were among the hundreds of people gathered at the spaceport terminal hangar facility for Monday’s dedication.

Branson describes the building as magnificent.

He says he hopes enough powered test flights of Virgin Galactic’s sleek spacecraft can be done by the end of 2012 to start commercial suborbital flights from the spaceport.

More than 450 people have purchased tickets to fly with Virgin Galactic. About 150 attended the ceremony.