Obama plan worries cities that rely on space jobs
HUNTSVILLE, Alabama — President Barack Obama's decision to scrap NASA's back-to-the-moon program in favor of private spacecraft created an outrage in places where jobs depend on a return lunar trip.
The new direction has stirred more than paycheck concerns, though. Some in Huntsville, Alabama, home of the program in which German rocket scientists first figured out how to send people to the moon, believe the shift could crush America's spaceflight psyche.
"People here care about going to the moon. The last thing they want to do is have our astronauts become cargo on some company's space ship," said Dale Jackson, host of a morning radio show WVNN in Huntsville, which is nicknamed "Rocket City."
There are 2,500 people working at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville on the $100 billion moon project, dubbed Constellation. Those jobs aren't in any immediate danger because Congress still must approve Obama's budget proposal, but the president's plan was certainly a jolt to the area.
The Constellation program, proposed by former President George W. Bush after the 2003 space shuttle Columbia disaster, includes the construction of two types of rockets and a crew capsule. The plan, however, has been criticized for being expensive and based on existing technologies.
The White House's new proposal was short on details, such as where astronauts would fly next and on what type of rocketship. The whole idea troubles people like Brenda Mulberry, who owns a store that sells souvenirs outside Kennedy Space Center.
Mulberry hoped the Constellation project would fill the void once the shuttle program concludes at the end of the year.
"They just barely started the program and people were hanging on with the shuttle ending that they would have something to do. We're just worried about a mass exodus out of this area," said Mulberry, owner of Space Shirts.
Scott Darpel, a contractor working on part of the Constellation project at the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, said he was "reasonably sure" of having a job for months. But he's concerned about the psychological affects.
"I kept hearing how people are not inspired by our space program. I never met anyone who was not awed by launches, nor by what we planned to do, when I told them," Darpel said.
At the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, a state-owned museum in Huntsville, Nathan Swick's jaw fell when he learned the administration wanted to end Constellation, which includes building the rockets Ares I and Ares V.
"What about the moon?" said Swick, a teacher in town with a group of students who attend a science and technology academy at Spring Ridge Middle School in Lexington Park, Md. "I have a picture of (Ares) in my room."
Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle asked Obama to reconsider the decision and several Alabama congressmen have also criticized the president's decision. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and chairman of the Senate space subcommittee, said he will hold a hearing later this month to see if Congress can rescue some parts of the Ares rocket programs.
"With the cuts to the Constellation program ... I'm concerned that our spirit as a country, our ability to rise up and meet the most daunting of challenges is in danger not only of falling behind other countries, but also that we are in danger of diminishing that American spirit all together," Battle said in a letter to the White House.
At Marshall, where the Ares I rocket is in development, director Robert Lightfoot said technology the would be used in other projects. Still, people were disappointed.
"Our workers have been killing themselves for four or five years on this project," he said.
Associated Press writers Michael Schneider in Orlando, Florida, and Alan Sayre in New Orleans contributed to this report.