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23,000 now expected to lose jobs after shuttle retirement

Friday, February 26, 2010 - 11:49am

VIERA — The local economic forecast tied to President Barack Obama's proposed NASA budget keeps growing bleaker.

Revised projections now show that about 23,000 workers at and around Kennedy Space Center will lose their jobs because of the shuttles' retirement and the new proposal to cancel the development of new rockets and spacecraft.

That sum includes 9,000 "direct" space jobs and — conservatively speaking — 14,000 "indirect" jobs at hotels, restaurants, retail stores and others that depend on activity at the space center, said Lisa Rice, Brevard Workforce president.

The organization's earlier estimate of 7,000 direct jobs reflected just the retirement of the shuttle program. The updated numbers also include the cancellation of Project Constellation and other initiatives as outlined in the president's 2011 budget, Rice said.

"Our unemployment rate is going to skyrocket," she warned Thursday during a five-hour Brevard County Commission space workshop. Much conversation centered on the future of human space launches from KSC, and attendees heaped criticism on Obama's strategy.

Mark Nappi is vice president of launch and recovery systems for United Space Alliance, NASA's prime contractor for shuttle operations. As things stand today, he predicted that more than 4,500 of the company's 5,500 Florida workers will lose their jobs. Geographically speaking, Nappi said 4,850 USA workers live in Brevard, including 3,250 in the northern half of the county.
Commissioners asked what the county can do to recruit commercial launch companies from California, Virginia, Texas and elsewhere.

"The market will drive where space vehicles are launched from," Nappi said. "And if we believe in Florida that we have the birthright to spaceflight operations, we're going to be the Pittsburgh of the steel industry and the Detroit of the car industry."

State Rep. Ritch Workman, founder of the Florida Space Caucus, denounced "this horrible president's budget."

Workman said that even if KSC somehow lures five leading commercial crew transport companies — SpaceX, Orbital Sciences Corp., The Boeing Co., Lockheed Martin and Sierra Nevada Corp. — from other states, that would account for only about 2,400 jobs.

"And we're talking about putting humans on private spacecraft. That is not going to happen for a decade," the Melbourne Republican said..

Gov. Charlie Crist's proposed budget includes $8.7 million for the development of the years-delayed Exploration Park, a proposed research complex that may someday employ 1,750 people, said Leigh Holt, county government relations manager. Crist's budget also earmarks $3.9 million to refurbish Launch Complex 46, Holt said.

On Thursday, the county was scheduled to roll out an updated version of SaveSpace.us, a Web site that touts a pro-NASA letter-writing campaign. The site has picked up more than 11,100 fans on Facebook and nearly 200 followers on Twitter, county spokeswoman Kimberly Prosser said.

By a 4-0 vote, commissioners also decided to offer Pauley Management Inc. a new federal lobbying contract for space, transportation and other matters.

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