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 thatstill forecasts several thousand fewer spaceport workers once the spaceshuttles stop flying.
KSC could shed as many as 4,500 positions by 2011, a yearafter the shuttles are scheduled to be retired. However, the NASA launch centerwould then pick up an additional 1,000 jobs in the following two years as thespace agency transitions to the Constellationproject that is envisioned to replace the shuttle program, the agency saidin its report to Congress.
NASA predicted in an earlier version of the report, releasedthis spring, that the shuttleprogram would slash about 6,400 jobs by 2012.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who has pushed NASA to offset job losses by bringing inresearch projects and other types of work, said the latest version of thejob-impact report offered mixed news.
"This is better than losing 6,400 jobs, but it's stilla cut that's going to hurt," the Orlando Democrat said.
U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, an Orlando Republican, praisedNASA's effort to "mitigate the difficult transition under way atKSC."
"It is critical that we find ways to make sure thistalented work force, a national asset, is maintained and fully engaged as wemove rapidly forward with Constellation and look to expand commercialactivities at the Cape," he said.
The discrepancy in the KSC work force estimate betweenNASA's first report, back in March, to its current forecast is because theagency has a better idea of what kind of transition jobs it can offer shuttleworkers, said NASA spokesman Michael Curie. The agency also was aided byConstellation-based contracts for projects that were recently awarded. Evolvingdetails about existing and future work have helped refine the estimates in thehalf-year since the first version of the report.
"Because some of the contracts (for Constellation) havebeen let, we now know where some people are going to go," Curie said."Whereas previously, we knew they were leaving the shuttle program, butdidn't have a real definite idea of where they may be going or how many peoplewould be needed for the new things."
The figures aren't a complete surprise. During a Senatefield hearing at KSC in June, NASA Administrator Mike Griffin said the agency'sjob losses at KSC ultimately would be about "three to four thousand"once all the details were finalized. It appears that prediction is reflected inthe new report to Congress.
Curie noted that the current estimates still do not includefuture work for the Ares V rockets and the Altair landers "so we expectthe situation to get better." For example, work on the lunar lander, moonoutpost equipment and research and development could be based at Kennedy, too,creating more jobs than currently envisioned. The report also does not takeinto account political debate about extending the space shuttle program by onemission — or possibly several years.
NASA will deliver its next work force estimate to Congress sometime next spring. The agency is under a Congressional order to update theestimates every six months — with breakdowns for each of NASA's field centersacross the country.
U.S. Rep. Tom Feeney, an Oviedo Republican whose districtincludes 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 thefact that "the biggest opportunity is in collateral aerospace — privateand nonprofit and commercial ventures, whether it's in space tourism, researchor 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 companiessuch as SpaceX or efforts by local and state officials to land space tourismprojects for facilities at either KSC or Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
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