NASA, White House Launch Digital Comment Box for Space Plan
U.S. President Barack Obama speaking at NASA Kennedy Space Center.
Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

With the retirement of NASA's space shuttles on the horizon, a special White House-appointed task force has launched a new interactive website to seek input from Florida's Space Coast workers most affected by the looming course changes in America's space program.

The site, created by the Task Force on Space Industry Workforce and Economic Development, offers information about the efforts by President Barack Obama's administration to create new jobs in the region to supplant those being lost through the retiring shuttle program.

"We consider the new interactive website an important tool to understand public concerns and challenges about the economic growth and well being of Florida's Space Coast," Woodrow Whitlow, NASA's associate administrator for the Mission Support Directorate in Washington, D.C., said in a statement.

"This tool and our other outreach efforts will help the task force prepare recommendations for the president that reflects the greatest needs and concerns of both the public and the area's aerospace-related industries," he added.

The new direction for NASA, as proposed by President Obama, was announced in February as part of the administration's 2011 budget request. Under the plan, NASA would cancel the existing Constellation program, which aimed to build Ares I and Ares V rockets to carry astronauts aboard a spacecraft called Orion back to the moon.

Instead of Constellation, President Obama is calling for NASA to send humans to an asteroid by 2025, and then push on to Mars by the mid-2030s.

The President also proposed extending the International Space Station, which was set to be decommissioned in 2016, through 2020.

To carry astronauts to the station after the space shuttles are retired at the end of 2010 or beginning of 2011, the new proposal would rely on Russian Soyuz spacecraft and new private U.S. spaceships yet to be built. Meanwhile, NASA would focus its energies on designing a heavy-lift rocket capable of traveling beyond low-Earth orbit to destinations including an asteroid and Mars.

The Florida task force was established May 3, after President Obama issued a presidential memorandum. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke are co-chairing the effort.

The task force's mission is to develop an interagency strategic action plan to enhance economic development along Florida's Space Coast and related areas. Plans will include recommendations to ensure the region is equipped to adapt to changes in local economies resulting from developments in America's space program.

Among these recommendations will be a strategic investment plan for $40 million in new federal funding for the Space Coast region that the president included in his 2011 budget request.

"President Obama is committed to helping Florida's Space Coast adapt and thrive in the years ahead," said John Fernandez, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development. "The work of the task force adds to this administration's unprecedented level of transparency, and ensures public trust, participation and confidence. Our efforts depend on the participation of local stakeholders who will ultimately devise and implement a bottom-up, regionally driven strategic plan."

The task force will review all input, and members of the public are invited to comment. The website can be accessed here .

The task force will present the plan to the president by Aug. 15.