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NASA Chief to Push for More Florida Space Jobs

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -NASA will press commercial aerospace companies to speed job creation on Florida's Space Coast to offset losses resulting from shuttle fleet retirement and the cancellation of the nation's moon program, the agency's chief said Friday.

NASA also intends to detail destinations for future U.S. human space exploration this month during Congressional hearings on a new presidential space plan that is highly unpopular at Kennedy Space Center and other agency facilities.

The plan would shift responsibility for ferrying astronauts on round trips to the International Space Station from NASA to commercial companies.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden expects an icy reception in Senate and House hearings scheduled for Feb. 24 and Feb. 25.

"I think those who suggest I am in for a battle are absolutely right," Bolden said in an hour-long interview with Florida Today's editorial board.

A popular former astronaut, Bolden said he made a mistake by failing to brief Congress on President Barack Obama's new plan before the rollout Monday of the White House's proposed 2011 budget.

"I don't fool myself that I have not injured some relationships. And so my task now is to try to go in and repair those former, incredibly good relationships because of my ineptness in rolling out this plan."

Obama's proposed $18.7 billion NASA budget includes a $6 billion increase over five years.

But it cancels NASA's Project Constellation, which was developing Ares rockets and Orion spacecraft for a U.S. return to the moon.

NASA in the past six years spent $9 billion on Constellation; the administration is asking for $2.5 billion to close it out.

The Obama space plan would extend station operations through 2020 and invest $6 billion in the development of commercial taxi services for astronauts flying on station expeditions.

The plan is aimed at reducing reliance on Russia, which the U.S. must pay to launch American astronauts to the station after the shuttle fleet retires later this year.

It also would be a dramatic shift in national space policy. NASA since 1958 has been responsible for developing and operating the rockets and spacecraft flown by American astronauts.

The Commercial Spaceflight Federation estimates that commercial crew transportation services will generate 5,000 jobs nationwide; about 1,700 of those would be created in Florida, the group said.

Some 7,000 KSC jobs are expected to be lost as a result of shuttle fleet shutdown. Bolden had no estimate for how many additional jobs will be lost as a result of the Constellation cancellation.

SpaceX of Hawthorne, Calif., is scheduled to begin launching cargo missions to the station next year from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Bolden said he will press that firm and other commercial companies to "pick up the pace" of job creation on the Space Coast.

"I will demand it because that's the promise that they have made," Bolden said.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Orlando, will urge NASA in a Feb. 24 hearing to fund Ares I flight tests as part of the development of a heavy-lift rocket.

Bolden called that idea "attractive" but also noted that the administration is focusing on developing "game-changing" and "innovative" technologies.

The Ares I is based on shuttle and Apollo heritage systems.

Bolden shares concerns about distractions as NASA sets out to launch five final shuttle missions.

But he also said the decision to retire the shuttle fleet, rather than extend operations, is the right choice.

"While I have no questions about the safety of the space shuttle, I am also very realistic in understanding that it was a flawed design from the very beginning," Bolden said.

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