After the Space Shuttle program ends, the Obama administration plans to divert billions originally set aside to return to the moon, to researching new rocket technology for general exploration, fostering commercial space industry, climate change science and aeronautics.
Johnson Space Center will be in charge of a new 6-billion dollar technology development center. Mike Coats is director of Johnson Space Center. He says money is in the 2011 budget to continue flying the space shuttle if need be to finish off the flights to complete the International Space Station.
The big question comes after that:
“I’ve got about about 15-hundred civil servants charged in both shuttle and constellation. We’re gonna have to find work and move them to other work, but we’re not gonna have a reduction in force for the civil servants. So, essentially the civil service work force is fixed. So I’ve got to move those folks around, and I can use those folks on study teams and so forth, for our new technology development projects, if you will. It’s the contractors that are gonna take the hit, unfortunately.”
He says he’s worried because the Shuttle and Constellation programs represent thousands of jobs:
“Two to three thousand jobs at stake with the shuttle program and another two to three thousand at stake here at JSC on the constellation program. So I’m trying to figure out ways, to have contractual mechanisms, to keep as much of that work force employed as possible. I need the skill. I need to maintain the core competencies here at the Johnson Space Center — the human space flight skills that we’ve got. Space craft design and development, space operations, all the human physiology challenges that we have in space flight and so forth. I’ve got to keep those core competencies around. Nobody else really has them.”
Coats calls the money spent on the Constellation program well spent, as a lot was learned.
“Hopefully we’ll capitalize on that. They’ll actually take some of that forward, apply to other programs, benefit say the commercial crew and cargo arena. But sooner or later, we’re gonna have a human and combined robotic mission to go explore. That’s what NASA should be doing is taking advantage of the wonderful laboratory we’ve got in lower earth orbit right now that we call the space station.”
Coats says he’s not sure when commercial space exploration will be ready to step in, but he adds that other countries need to play a part.