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Economic Impact of Space Exploration at the Final Frontier

A bipartisan chorus came out of Florida's congressional delegation Monday in opposition to President Barack Obama's budget proposal for NASA, saying it would cede American leadership in manned space exploration while costing Florida about 7,000 jobs.

“I am concerned that this budget represents a slow death to our nation’s human space flight program,” said U.S. Rep. Bill Posey, R-Rockledge, whose district includes part of Cape Canaveral and includes many space center employees – and who once worked at Kennedy Space Center but lost his job when the Apollo program ended.

While NASA touted the fact that the president is actually recommending an increase of the agency's budget by $6 billion over the next five years, the proposal is drawing criticism for cancelling the Constellation program, including the Ares I and V rockets and the Orion crew exploration vehicle. That program had been intended to return astronauts to the moon.

In October, a committee chaired by Norm Augustine that was tasked with reviewing human spaceflight plans said the program wouldn't work, and NASA administrator Charlie Bolden said Monday that the president agreed.

The panel found that “the program would not get us back to the moon in any reasonable time or within any affordable cost,” Bolden said in a statement released by the agency. “Far more funding was needed to make our current approach work.

“So as much as we would not like it to be the case, and taking nothing away from the hard work and dedication of our team, the truth is that we were not on a path to get back to the moon's surface. And as we focused so much of our effort and funding on just getting to the moon, we were neglecting investments in the key technologies that would be required to go beyond,” Bolden said.

U.S. Rep. Suzanne Kosmas, a Democrat who shares the cape with Posey and whose district actually includes Kennedy Space Center itself, joined her Republican colleague in criticizing the decision.

“The President’s proposal lacks a bold vision for space exploration and begs for the type of leadership that he has described as critical for inspiring innovation for the 21st century,” Kosmas said. “Leaving NASA with no detailed plan or timeline for exploring beyond Earth’s orbit will cede our international leadership in space, cost our country the numerous economic benefits of human spaceflight, and fail to inspire this and future generations to excel in science and technology.”

Kosmas said she was particularly concerned about the cancellation of the Orion exploration vehicle program.

“The state of Florida has made significant investments to prepare KSC facilities for Orion, and the Space Coast anticipated, invested in, and planned for the commitment to be fulfilled in order to help preserve jobs,” Kosmas said.

She wasn't the only Democrat to call out the president for the decision.

“Ending manned NASA missions to the moon would put 7,000 direct Florida jobs in jeopardy, as well as thousands of others that support the program,” said U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate. “The proposition of losing thousands of Florida jobs is unacceptable.”

Florida officials have known that a big change was coming at Kennedy Space Center, with the shuttle program long scheduled to end this year. In addition to the KSC jobs, thousands of contractors will likely lose work when that happens. Cancelling the moon goal, and the Orion vehicle only compounds the pain, Florida officials said.

Gov. Charlie Crist moved last week to try to help blunt the impact, recommending that lawmakers set aside $32 million in next year's budget for Space Florida – with $20 million of that to be earmarked for business recruitment as the state tries to transition the region to one centered around devleopment of the private space flight industry.

Backers of that idea say the area is suited for it because the infrastructure and expertise are already in place.

Rep. Steve Crisafulli, who represents part of the Space Coast in the state House, said Obama's budget had enormous economic implications.

“Those job losses will have an extremely detrimental impact on Central Florida’s economy,” said Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island.

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