NATTY yellow carts whizz tourists around Wenchang space port, a sprawling launch site on the tropical island of Hainan. The brisk tour passes beneath an enormous poster of Xi Jinping, China’s president, then disgorges passengers for photographs not far from a skeletal launch tower. Back at the visitor centre there is a small exhibition featuring space suits, a model moon-rover and the charred husk of a re-entry capsule that brought Chinese astronauts back from orbit. A gift shop at the exit sells plastic rockets, branded bottle openers and cuddly alien mascots.The base in a township of Wenchang city is the newest of China’s four space-launch facilities. It is also by far the easiest to visit—thanks in part to the enthusiasm of officials in Hainan, a haven for tourists and rich retirees. Wenchang’s local government has adopted a logo for the city reminiscent of Starfleet badges in “Star Trek”. It is building a space-themed tourist village near the launch site, with attractions that include a field of vegetables grown from seeds that have been carried in spaceships.If the dream is to turn this palm-fringed corner of Hainan into a tourist trap comparable to Florida’s balmy space coast, there is still a lot to do. Several idle building sites suggest that some investors have gambled rashly. Signs have been taken down from a patch of scrub that was once earmarked for an amusement centre. On a recent weekday, pensioners wintering nearby were among the few visitors to the launch site. A local says that people often come out feeling like they have had a lesson in patriotism, but not much fun.Perhaps this will change when Wenchang gets up to speed. The base is crucial to China’s extraterrestrial ambitions because it is the only site from which it can launch its latest and largest rocket, the Long March 5 (pictured). Narrow railway tunnels limit the size of the components that can be delivered to the three other bases. Rockets are anyway more efficient the closer they are launched to the equator, where the faster rotation of Earth provides extra lift. Of China’s launch centres, Wenchang is by far the nearest to that sweet spot.