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Sun, Apr 19, 2009

FL Senator Pushing To Delay Shuttle Retirement

Seeking To Protect Thousands Of Aerospace Industry Jobs

Florida Senator Bill Nelson, a former Space Shuttle astronaut himself, is working toward extending the shuttle program to protect thousands of jobs in his state that would likely be jeopardized by the programs' planned retirement at the end of 2010.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Nelson, a Democrat, feels that the 2010 deadline is an arbitrary date, rather than one timed to accomplish all nine remaining missions. The senator said a more realistic goal would be to complete those missions "and finish the international space station before shutting operations down," without the pressure of a rigid timetable.

The shuttle program deadline has already been extended once before... from its original mandate from the Bush administration to stop flying by September 30, 2010 to until the end of that year.

As head of a Senate Commerce subcommittee with jurisdiction over space exploration, Nelson recently proposed legislation that allots NASA an additional $2.5 billion to fund the Shuttle program through the end of 2011, which is still under consideration by a House-Senate conference committee.

With unemployment in his home state topping the 10 percent mark, Nelson is concerned about protecting jobs that would be affected by the shuttle's retirement. An estimated 3,500 jobs rely directly on the program and perhaps twice that number along Florida's space coast could suffer; industry analysts have calculated that as many as 30,000 jobs nationwide could be impacted.

However, a report released by the congressional Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel on Thursday supports NASA's 2010 retirement deadline, concluding that planning to fly the shuttles longer "not only would increase the risk to crews, but also could jeopardize" funds slated for other programs.

Brewster Shaw, general manager of Boeing's space-exploration unit, disagreed with safety concerns over the aging Shuttles voiced by the panel, saying, "They are safer now than they have ever been." Shaw also opposes adhering to a firm deadline. "I would prefer they just say get the job done," he said.

Boeing Shuttle program manager John Mulholland pointed out that weather and other unforeseeable problems often cause delays, and it's not unrealistic that planned launches could be pushed past the 2010 deadline. "We've missed schedules before," he said.

FMI: http://billnelson.senate.gov, www.nasa.gov/shuttle

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