NASA Workers Saddened By Shuttle Program's End

Workers throughout NASA are upset that the space shuttle program is ending. But maybe none more so than the people at Johnson Space Center in Houston, where the astronauts live and train.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Of course the space shuttle launches from Florida. Joe is with us in our studio. But we also have Wade Goodwyn in Houston. That's where the space program is at the Johnson Space Center there. Mission Control operates out of there, and it's where the astronauts live and train. And Wade, what is the mood there in Houston?

WADE GOODWYN: Well, there's all kinds of feelings here. I think first and foremost, everyone's down to business. They've got a shuttle to launch, a mission to carry out, and then one last time back to Earth safely.

That being said, of course there's plenty of emotion too. Everyone's pretty proud of what's been done here over the last 30 years, proud of themselves, proud of their country. And there's sadness that this is it, the final mission for shuttle program. Finally, there's some anger at the federal government, at President Obama and some of the higher-ups at NASA that there's not a next plan, you know, the next program, the next vision for American space already in place and ready to go.

MONTAGNE: You know, but I wonder what, from that end of things, in Houston, how they feel the impact is of the end of the shuttle program, for the community there.

GOODWYN: It's going to have a big impact, tens of millions of dollars a year, maybe more than a hundred million, it's hard to know yet. Thousands of NASA employees are losing their jobs here, thousands of more outside contracting jobs depend on NASA. There's a ripple effect. Now, the Texas economy is doing better than most and the energy sector is making money hand over fists these days, so many of these scientists and engineers are being hired there for their expertise. They'll be employed, just not in the space program anymore.

MONTAGNE: And just one thing. We've been hearing crowds in Florida. What about the crowds there, are there?

GOODWYN: No, no crowds here. Unlike Florida, there's nothing to see. Johnson Space Center's is a little bit like a military base, with checkpoints, so the public can't get in. All the action happens inside.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

I want to go back now to Florida, where there is a view. NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce who began our conversation, is still with us once again, I believe. And Nell, if I'm not mistaken, you've seen quite a few of these launches and now you're waiting for this last one if it happens this morning. Can you just paint a word picture for us of what you see from right in front of you all the way out to the shuttle?

NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE: Well, I'm looking out of the NPR tent. We have a little white tent set up, because of course it rains quite a lot and we need some shelter from that.

INSKEEP: Uh-huh.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: I'm looking out. There's a big digital clock that's all lit up. It's the countdown clock. It's across a lawn, a grassy lawn, right next to a big American flag. And there's reporters and cameras and people milling around, even though the launch is still hours away. Across some water, off in the distance, you can see the shuttle itself on the pad all lit up and the skies are starting to lighten up and there are some clouds up there, but they look, hopefully, like they might be clearing up a little bit.

INSKEEP: This is such an amazing sight because so many of us have seen this for all of our lives. Anybody who was alive 30 years ago may remember the first or one of the first shuttle launches, and there it is again, looking about the same as it did then.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Yes, and there are many people here, you know, at the press center, reporters who have come back who covered the first launch who are here to cover the last one.

INSKEEP: OK, Nell, thanks very much.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Thank you.

INSKEEP: And we will await details and be going back to our correspondents throughout the morning at the Kennedy Space Center in Houston, where we heard NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce. NPR's Greg Allen is there as well. NPR's Wade Goodwyn standing by in Houston. We'll have the latest as we hear it. Again, the latest is we're waiting on a weather update to see if the shuttle will go or not.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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