KSC Workers Rally to Continue Constellation and Extend Shuttle

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About 2,000 people turned out for a “Save Our Space Exploration” rally in Titusville, Florida on Saturday. Organized by union leaders, the event focused on preserving jobs at Kennedy Space Center, vital to the economy on the Space Coast. “Canceling the Constellation program is a movement away from what we Floridians know that we made happen,” said Brian Dempsey Secretary/Treasurer of Florida AFL/CIO. “Space Coast, space travel — that’s Florida. That’s what we’re known for. This is not a small matter. This is a huge fight that we’re going to have to buckle down to win. It’s going to take serious dedication and determination.”

No NASA officials spoke, but shuttle launch director Mike Leinbach was in attendance.

Speakers included union and community leaders, and each began with the words, “I’m one of the faces of the Space Coast, my family is worth fighting for, my community is worth fighting for, my job is worth fighting for.”

Rally in Titusville, FL. Image credit: Alan Walters, awaltersphoto.com. Used by permission.

Any mention of commercial space companies or Russian space vehicles brought boos from the crowd. At the entrance at the Brevard County Community College, where the rally was held, people held signs that said “Impeach Obama.”

“We need to send a message to Congress and our President that what was announced a few weeks ago was not the last word,” said Glenda Linton, the National Secretary Treasurer of the Federation of Public and Private Employees. “We are here to send a message We will keep our jobs here in the United States and not give them to the likes of Russia and China. This is about lives, schools, businesses and everything that goes along with it.”

“I want to remind the President what he said right in that building over there, that he was going to save our jobs,” said Robin Fisher a Brevard county commissioner. He encouraged everyone to contact their legislators with the following words: “We urge you to call for endorsement for Constellation for a bold direction, and extension of the shuttle. We urge you to hold up all votes until Florida is taken care of. If that stops Washington, that’s OK. We want to stop Washington. Tell your legislators to cast no votes until the President gets it, that we must set a direction that is right for the US to preserve our leadership as a world economic superpower and military leadership that can only be achieved through space exploration.”

Organizers were expecting up to 5,000 people, but cold, rainy weather may have kept some at home. Many were bundled up in coats and blankets, but held signs that said “Jobs Now” or “We Believe in Space.”

Rally in Titusville, FL. Image credit: Alan Walters, awaltersphoto.com. Used by permission

The Save Our Space group is organizing a video message campaign to send to members of Congress that will tell the personal stories of what will happen with the projected job losses, which could reach upwards 20,000, according to some sources. “Your face is the only one that can tell your story,” one speaker said.

“This is a time to build, a time to be innovative, a time to keep people working in the jobs they were trained to do,” he continued. “We are here today on this raining, cloudy and misty day to remind our leaders in Congress that this community is worth fighting for and these jobs are worth holding onto. We are not here to lay blame on anyone but to value the pride of this community and the work that we do in it. This is an example that we are willing to do to whatever we can to save our community and save our jobs.”

Rally in Titusville, FL. Image credit: Alan Walters, awaltersphoto.com. Used by permission

“This isn’t a crisis for just NASA workers, or union members,” said Executive Vice President of AFL/CIO Arleen Holt Baker. “This is a crisis of an entire community, and there are millions of brothers and sisters across America that are standing shoulder to shoulder with you, and they share your anger at the short-sighted decisions that are short changing your future. ”

Tough Times Could Be Ahead for Kennedy Space Center

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The cancellation of the Constellation program compounds an already bleak picture for the Kennedy Space Center and those who work there. 7,000 shuttle workers are expected to lose their jobs by the time the shuttle program comes to an end by late 2010 or early 2011. So far, NASA has not provided an estimate of how many government and contractor jobs will be lost as Constellation — the program that would have sent astronauts back to the Moon — will be slashed. But it could be a hard blow to KSC and communities surrounding the space center.

“This is a big deal and it is going to affect us,” said Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana about the cancellation at a press conference earlier this week. Shuttle launch director Mike Leinbach talked about the “shock” and “uncertainty” that many at KSC are feeling.

But Cabana said that when it comes time to launch the space shuttles, everyone is focused. “The workforce here is the most professional and dedicated I’ve ever seen,” he said.

And since the STS-130 mission is scheduled to launch on Super Bowl Sunday, Leinbach took the opportunity to use a football analogy.

“I asked everybody to treat these last five missions like a professional team. We can be down in the fourth quarter; we can be many, many points behind,” Leinbach said, “but we’re going to play every down and we’re going until the final whistle blows.”

But while NASA officials try to paint the best picture possible, the workforce is definitely feeling apprehensive. Roughly 2,100 NASA civil servants at KSC are expected to remain employed, with assignments shifting toward technology research and development. But most of KSC’s 11,000 shuttle program workers are employed by contractors. Without the shuttle and without a subsequent government-based program for human spaceflight, the jobs will likely disappear.

“The mood at work has been sort of somber for a while now, but it seems a bit more anxious now,” said Jen Scheer, a shuttle technician for a NASA contractor. “Morale is definitely very low. We all love the shuttle program and will be very sad to see it come to an end.”

Scheer and her husband both work at KSC, and have been preparing for potential layoffs by returning to college for additional degrees and looking to other options for potential careers.

Launchpad 39B at KSC, recently refurbished for the Ares rockets. Image: Nancy Atkinson

“The announcement Monday (about the cancellation of Constellation) really didn’t even faze us- we pretty much expected it,” Scheer said. “But a lot of the people we work with did not have the same reaction. They wanted to believe the shuttle would be extended, or they would be selected to go on to the next program. Many are very scared now.”

In addition to lost jobs, the housing market surrounding the Cape is in trouble. “Due to the depressed market here, not much has been selling for about the past two or three years,” Scheer said. “Property values dropped so sharply that many of us owe more on our homes than they are worth. So we really can’t leave. But we’ve seen it coming, and we know what we have to do.”

Cabana also said he and his team saw the likelihood that Constellation would be canceled, and have dug in to prepare for the future. He firmly believes human spaceflight will continue at KSC. “Launch Complex 39 is not going to go to waste. The geography of Florida makes it perfect for launching to orbit,” Cabana said. “That’s a unique facility out there with unique assets, and I think they will be available for commercial use also.”

Cabana said they’ve begun to organize to better support future exploration so that KSC is not program-centric, but support centric. “We’re working to define what our role is in commercial space,” he said

Even NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, speaking at a press conference on Saturday, said that while he can empathize with workers at KSC, he admits he can’t feel what they are feeling. He compared the end of Constellation to a death in the family. “Every body needs to understand that, and give them time to grieve and time to recover,” he said earlier this week. “I have an incredible work force, they have been through this before. This is part of life at NASA, and we manage to recover and go on and do great things.”

But Scheer and her husband continue to plan ahead. As a staunch supporter of spaceflight, Scheer began the Space Tweep Society, an organization with mission to “promote enthusiasm for all things space and to unite those inside the space industry with those who are outside looking in.” To expand what the popular Twitter-based organization does for space education and awareness, Scheer is looking to create a non-profit organization and is planning to apply for education grants. “I think our only hope is going to be to get money from outside this area,” she said. “There are a lot of positive things I want to do to keep the dream of space exploration alive in our country even in the absence of a manned program.”

For more info about the Space Tweep Society

Read Jen Scheer’s article on the Open NASA website about the end of the shuttle program

End of Shuttle Program Will Slow Florida’s Economy

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.

Source: Florida Today, Reuters