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Wed, Apr 02, 2008

NASA Comes Clean On Shuttle Job Losses

Congressman Says Agency Needs Better Plan, And Soon

On Tuesday, NASA reluctantly confirmed there will be far more layoffs at Kennedy Space Center and other major manned space flight centers across the country, when the space shuttle program reaches its end in September 2010, than the public had previously been led to believe.

According to the "Workforce Transition Strategy Initial Report" issued Tuesday, NASA estimated there will be at least 6,400 jobs eliminated between FY 2008 and FY 2011 at Kennedy Space Center alone. Of those 6,400 layoffs, NASA forecasts 4,800 will come all in one year -- 2011. These numbers could grow if problems arise with the Constellation program due to technological or funding issues.

Florida Congressman Dave Weldon is a fierce critic of NASA's plan to do away with the shuttle after 2010 -- understandable, as his district includes KSC. Last year, he successfully pushed for House passage of an amendment requiring NASA to issue the job impact report, and update it twice a year.

Weldon also takes issue with NASA's plan to rely on Russian spacecraft for US astronauts bound for the International Space Station during the projected four-year gap between the end of shuttle flights and full-scale operation of the Orion spacecraft -- a plan Weldon calls "a major foreign policy blunder.

"This report only confirms what I have been saying for the last several years," Weldon said Tuesday. "The Bush Administration's space plan is woefully inadequate and unacceptable. The Administration's current plan is to cede the 'ultimate high ground' to hostile nations. The Chinese and Russians are celebrating today, while many on the Space Coast are only now realizing the magnitude of the absurdity of the current strategy imposed by the Administration."

According to Weldon's office, NASA's report also exposed the agency currently has only a 33% confidence level that it will be able to have the next manned spaceflight vehicle ready for flight by 2013. That confidence level rises only to 65% for a launch in 2015... meaning that even if the massive project experiences no delays or unforeseen issues, the minimum time that America will be shut out of space is five years.

Weldon notes that news comes as China is working feverishly to surpass US space dominance, and as Russia becomes increasingly belligerent.

"While I have been sharing these concerns with my colleagues for some time now, they have had difficulty grasping what this will mean not only to East-Central Florida, but to the entire state," said Weldon. "My colleagues in the Senate haven't seemed to grasp the scope of this debacle and the urgency with which we must act.

"That is why I asked for this report. We need to know the facts and what the results will be if we don't change course. Pro-space rhetoric is nice to hear but it does little to address the very real calamity our Space Coast is facing. I am hopeful that this dose of reality will bring the delegation together to address this issue as a state priority," he added.

FMI: www.nasa.gov, www.house.gov

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