WASHINGTON ? U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) announced legislation this week that would provide tax breaks for investors and companies seeking to develop commercial spacecraft for transporting astronauts to orbit.
Dubbed the Commercial Space Jobs and Investment Act, the measure also would create up to five regional business enterprise zones around the United States intended to draw commercial space ventures and create employment opportunities in areas expected to lose jobs when the space shuttle is retired next year, according to a Tuesday statement issued by Nelson's office.
"President Kennedy was right when he predicted that space exploration would create a great number of new companies and strengthen our economy," said Nelson, whose state is home to NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC). "What we're doing now is everything we can to ensure KSC's continued importance to our nation's space exploration effort, while also broadening the economic opportunities along our Space Coast." [Top 10 Private Spaceships Becoming Reality]
Nelson announced the legislation the same day NASA and the U.S. Commerce Department sent the White House a 24-page report outlining plans for spending a proposed $40 million to spur job growth in Florida and other states affected by the space shuttle's retirement.
Led by Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, the President's Task Force on Space Industry Workforce and Economic Development recommended, among other initiatives, a $5 million effort to launch a new Commercial Spaceflight Technical Center at KSC that could provide safety and technical support for future commercial space launch activities.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Senate approved NASA authorizing legislation that recommends funding infrastructure modernization efforts at KSC as well as a new heavy-lift rocket development that could keep elements of the space shuttle work force employed. Shaped by Nelson and other lawmakers with a stake in NASA's manned spaceflight programs, the Senate-approved plan also provides enough money for an additional space shuttle flight next June.
NASA currently plans to fly two more space shuttle missions before retiring its three remaining orbiters for good next year. Those missions are set for November of this year and in February 2011, though the potential for the additional, third shuttle flight is still being discussed in Congress.
Once NASA's final shuttle missions are complete, the U.S. space agency will rely on spacecraft from the Russian, Japanese and European space agencies to ferry crews and supplies to the International Space Station until American commercial spacecraft or new NASA space vehicles are ready.
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This story was provided by Space News, dedicated to covering all aspects of the space industry.