NASA Jobs To Be Decided

In Washington, the House is set to vote Wednesday on NASA's programs for next year. The bill has some help designed to ease the impact on jobs in Houston expected when the Space Shuttle is retired. Todd Zwillich has more from Capitol Hill.

The bill authorizes nearly $20 billion in spending at NASA next year. That’s an 11% boost over this year. It authorizes spending on everything from climate research to the International Space Station.

But of more immediate concern to Houston lawmakers are expected job losses at Johnson Space Center.

The Space Shuttle is set to be retired at the end of 2010. The next manned program, called Constellation, isn’t slated until 2015. That gap has launch teams and mission control teams facing cuts.

Houston Democrat Nick Lampson is on the House Science Committee, which directs NASA’s programs.

“We are cognizant of the fact that we risk losing the imagination of the next generation of scientists and engineers and diminishing their desire to serve our nation’s space program.”

The bill moves Constellation forward one year to 2014 in an effort to narrow the launch gap. It also lets the shuttle fly into 2011 if it needs to, but adds no new missions to the schedule for the aging shuttle.

Houston Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee welcomes the changes, but says they are not enough.

“We’re not diminishing the age of the shuttle but we frankly believe that consideration should be given. That doesn’t seem to be in the cards at this point.”

The launch team at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center could lose thousands of jobs in the years between the Shuttle and Constellation. The numbers are not as high at Houston but Lee says they’re still serious.

“We know that the team is in the figure of hundreds that’s spread out from the core team that manages the shuttle operations so it would not be a very pretty picture, it would certainly be a number that would impact Johnson Space Center and the surrounding community.”

The House is expected to vote Wednesday. The Senate has not yet voted on its version of the bill.

From Capitol News Connection, Todd Zwillich, KUHF-Houston Public Radio