New Mexico Spaceport America director put on leave


Someone in New Mexico’s state government knows the answer but isn’t saying why Spaceport America CEO Dan Hicks was put on administrative leave three weeks ago.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported an investigation is underway but Hicks knows little about the probe and is under state orders not to discuss it publicly.

“I’m not supposed to be talking to anybody, according to the Cabinet secretary,” Hicks said in an interview , referring to the head of the state Economic Development Department, which has administrative ties to the New Mexico Spaceport Authority.

Hicks said he was placed on leave because of a complaint, though he was uncertain of the details.

“All I know is I was just placed on administrative leave pending a whistleblower complaint,” Hicks said.

“I don’t even know what it’s about,” he added.

Bruce Krasnow, a spokesman for the Economic Development Department, said the complaint against Hicks was “related to operations,” not personal behavior. Hicks has been on leave since June 12, and the spaceport’s general counsel, Melissa Kemper Force, has become acting CEO, Krasnow said.

Beyond that, mum’s the word.

“We’re actually looking at whether we’re legally allowed to say more,” said Jon Clark, deputy secretary of the Economic Development Department. “I’m not sure we are.”

Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokeswoman for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, also said Friday she didn’t have more information about the situation — even though the governor appoints six of the Spaceport Authority’s board members and the authority is “administratively attached” to an executive branch agency.

Spaceport America, based near Truth or Consequences in the far southern area of the state, has long been one of New Mexico’s bright hopes for increased economic development. Sir Richard Branson and former Gov. Bill Richardson announced their plans nearly 15 years ago to build the world’s first commercial spacecraft launch and landing facility in the state.

While Virgin has been conducting test flights and the spaceport has engaged with other tenants, including Boeing and EXOS Aerospace, the big-ticket item — Virgin’s plans to send tourists into space — has yet to launch.

Key legislators from Southern New Mexico said they had approved of Hicks’ work at the spaceport and were disappointed at the news he had been placed on leave.

They said they also had no information about the complaint against Hicks.

“You know, I have absolutely no idea,” said Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, whose state Senate district includes the spaceport. “I wasn’t informed. I heard about it, and that was it.

“Will we get a reason? Or are we just going to get a standard answer?” she continued. “That, to me, is not an answer. I would like to know exactly why.”

Source: Santa Fe New Mexican