NASA predicted it would cut nearly half as many jobs at Kennedy Space Center as it estimated six months ago, according to a report Wednesday that still forecasts several thousand fewer spaceport workers once the space shuttles stop flying.

KSC could shed as many as 4,500 positions by 2011, a year after the shuttles are scheduled to be retired. However, the NASA launch center would then pick up an additional 1,000 jobs in the following two years as the space agency transitions to the Constellation project that is envisioned to replace the shuttle program, the agency said in its report to Congress.

NASA predicted in an earlier version of the report, released this spring, that the shuttle program would slash about 6,400 jobs by 2012.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who has pushed NASA to offset job losses by bringing in research projects and other types of work, said the latest version of the job-impact report offered mixed news.

"This is better than losing 6,400 jobs, but it's still a cut that's going to hurt," the Orlando Democrat said.

U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, an Orlando Republican, praised NASA's effort to "mitigate the difficult transition under way at KSC."

"It is critical that we find ways to make sure this talented work force, a national asset, is maintained and fully engaged as we move rapidly forward with Constellation and look to expand commercial activities at the Cape," he said.

The discrepancy in the KSC work force estimate between NASA's first report, back in March, to its current forecast is because the agency has a better idea of what kind of transition jobs it can offer shuttle workers, said NASA spokesman Michael Curie. The agency also was aided by Constellation-based contracts for projects that were recently awarded. Evolving details about existing and future work have helped refine the estimates in the half-year since the first version of the report.

"Because some of the contracts (for Constellation) have been let, we now know where some people are going to go," Curie said. "Whereas previously, we knew they were leaving the shuttle program, but didn't have a real definite idea of where they may be going or how many people would be needed for the new things."

The figures aren't a complete surprise. During a Senate field hearing at KSC in June, NASA Administrator Mike Griffin said the agency's job losses at KSC ultimately would be about "three to four thousand" once all the details were finalized. It appears that prediction is reflected in the new report to Congress.

Curie noted that the current estimates still do not include future work for the Ares V rockets and the Altair landers "so we expect the situation to get better." For example, work on the lunar lander, moon outpost equipment and research and development could be based at Kennedy, too, creating more jobs than currently envisioned. The report also does not take into account political debate about extending the space shuttle program by one mission — or possibly several years.

NASA will deliver its next work force estimate to Congress some time next spring. The agency is under a Congressional order to update the estimates every six months — with breakdowns for each of NASA's field centers across the country.

U.S. Rep. Tom Feeney, an Oviedo Republican whose district includes KSC, said he was relieved the original job-loss estimates were "dramatically higher" than now seem to be anticipated.

Like Florida's two senators, he said the report stresses the fact that "the biggest opportunity is in collateral aerospace — private and nonprofit and commercial ventures, whether it's in space tourism, research or other activities located at Kennedy Space Center."

The report does not include developments outside NASA, including potential growth in the commercial launch sector from new companies such as SpaceX or efforts by local and state officials to land space tourism projects for facilities at either KSC or Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

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