NASA’s Space Shuttle, which will make its last flight sometime later this year, has been a boon to the local economy surrounding the Kennedy Space Center, which is located in Cocoa, Florida. The closest county, Brevard, is where many of the workers that help maintain and launch the shuttle reside, and because of the presence of the space center, many a bar, restaurant, and local business have thrived.
This is in part due to those that work in the space industry, both for NASA itself and many of its private contractors. There are also the thousands of tourists that flock to the region to view launches and take tours of the Kennedy Space Center. All this, however, will change once the shuttle program is finished, and with five-year gap (at least) until the Constellation program gets rolling, the “Space Coast” may take quite a hit economically.
The end of the shuttle program will potentially eliminate as many as 7,000 – 8,000 jobs, some of which will need to be filled once again when the Constellation program is in full swing. But during the gap, many workers are expected to vacate the area in search of jobs elsewhere. This will impact the local economy that relies on these residents, and as many as 14,000 workers in the area may be indirectly affected.
According to a state study, in the 2008 fiscal year NASA generated $4.1 billion dollars in revenue and benefits for the state. $2.1 billion of that was in household income, and over 40,000 jobs were created due to NASA-related activities.
The local unemployment rate has already risen to 11.9 percent at present, largely due to the nationwide economic problems. Housing and construction have taken a hit as well, and will continue to suffer as the area sees the space workers leave.
This is the second time in NASA’s history that they’ve had to wind down a human space program, the first being the Apollo missions which ended in 1972. After the end of Apollo, Brevard county saw a dramatic downturn in the economy, as 10,000 workers left the region to find jobs and unemployment rose to 15 percent.
Estimations of the economic aftereffects of the end of the shuttle program aren’t as grim as those figures for the post-Apollo period, but there will be repercussions nonetheless.
There are several other factors that complicate the renewal of these lost jobs once the Constellation program starts up in earnest. Since Constellation utilizes a non-reusable launch system, fewer workers will be needed for repair and retrofit between launches.
Frank DiBello of the state agency Space Florida told Florida Today, “There is no escaping the transition that will occur when we go from a very labor intensive, reusable space flight system to one that is expendable. Simply by its nature, it is going to take a smaller workforce.”
Almost one-third of the current NASA employees working on the shuttle are up for retirement, so these posts would have been vacated anyway, and approximately 2,000 civil servants for NASA will retain their jobs over the gap between programs.
Though the region surrounding the Kennedy Space Center will surely struggle these next few years, it’s possible that many aerospace workers will flock to the private space industry during the gap, and companies like Virgin Galactic will benefit.