Revised NASA Vision Promises 'Space Coast' Jobs

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Many on Florida's "space coast" had feared a huge loss of jobs with the end of the space shuttle program. Communities from Titusville to Melbourne depend on Cape Canaveral. Obama's NASA vision promises 4,500 jobs will be created.

GREG ALLEN: I'm Greg Allen in Cocoa Beach. Florida Democratic Senator Bill Nelson says he told President Obama he was coming to a hostile environment to deliver his NASA speech, and he was right.

In the two months since the White House announced it was canceling the successor program to the space shuttle, Constellation, the outcry from communities and elected officials in Florida has steadily grown. Senator Nelson says the president heard those concerns, and that's why he announced yesterday some key changes to his NASA plan, including saving part of the Constellation Program.

Senator BILL NELSON (Democrat, Florida): Not only are we now having destinations and timetable to go out and explore the cosmos, but we now have the speeding up of a heavy-lift vehicle and we have the restructuring of the Constellation program.

Mr. FRANK DIBELLO (President, Space Florida): I think it's a major step in the right direction.

ALLEN: Frank DiBello is the president of Space Florida, a state-funded group dedicated to building the aerospace industry here. President Obama, he believes, will help Florida continue its preeminent role in the nation's space program.

The plan spends $2 billion upgrading launch facilities at the Kennedy Space Center and makes it a center of commercial manned space flight activities. The president has taken heat for not having a clear mission or destination for the space program. He tried yesterday to remedy that, talking about possible future missions that would land astronauts on an asteroid and eventually Mars.

Canceling most of the troubled Constellation Program, Dibello says, frees up the dollars to begin the work that will make those missions possible.

Mr. DIBELLO: I think what they've done is to take a strategic pause, and it's not an abandonment, it's a strategic pause in the way that they're approaching human space flight and to really invest the money to develop the technologies that will get us there in the future.

ALLEN: While the president won over some with his revised vision for NASA, he hasn't convinced everyone here, including Florida Congressman Bill Posey, a Republican who represents many space industry workers.

Congressman BILL POSEY (Republican, Florida): This is not a new plan. This is essentially the same plan that was laid out in February. They just added a new cover sheet, used a new font, added a couple footnotes.

ALLEN: Posey and other members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, are sponsoring bills that would speed up Constellation, the program the president now wants to downsize, and extend the life of the space shuttle until its successor is ready to go. The White House clearly has some negotiation to do with Congress before it can put the president's vision for NASA into action.

In the meantime, for communities on the space coast, from Titusville to Melbourne, whose economies depend on Cape Canaveral, there's much in the president's plan to like - a promise that 4,500 space jobs will be created, and what Lisa Rice is most excited about, a $40 million fund for economic development and job training. Rice is the head of the Brevard Workforce Board. She says that money will be important in luring to the area private aerospace companies and the jobs they'll create.

Ms. LISA RICE (Brevard Workforce Board): I see opportunities for us. My only concern right now is how fast will those opportunities come to us, because if it's two or three years from now, the workforce won't stay around. They can't.

ALLEN: One thing that hasn't changed much here on the space coast is the atmosphere of uncertainty. While Congress and the White House deliberate, the post-shuttle future is fast approaching. After Discovery lands next week, there are only three more missions before the space shuttle is retired for good.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Cocoa Beach.

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