President Obama makes his Apr. 15 speech at KSC. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian
The Space Industry Report submitted to President Barack Obama on Aug. 15 by The Task Force on Space Industry Workforce and Economic Development provides a window into the politics involved in determining the future of the U.S. space program.
While it is understandable that not all 8,000 shuttle workers that are scheduled to be unemployed can be kept working on manned space flight initiatives, in many ways it seems the producers of this report want Kennedy Space Center (KSC) to move away from manned space flight operations toward other fields.
The industries that the task force recommends the $40 million that President Obama has allocated to use to help the region are only slightly related to the space industry (excluding aviation and aerospace). The strategy appears to be to direct workers – some of whom have decades’ worth of experience – out of the manned space flight arena.
The new areas are clean energy, homeland security/defense, information technology and life sciences. However, while the report repeatedly states these fields will help further the future of manned space flight, it never explains how. The report refers to the President’s plan as “bold,” “ambitious” and “transformative,” with such a low emphasis placed on new launch vehicles and propulsion systems, this new path will definitely transform the region.
These efforts may indeed lead to diversification of the Space Coast’s economic foundation. But it is difficult to see how jobs involving clean energy, security and information technology will open the “new era” in manned space flight envisioned in this report. A review of some of the contradictions in this report includes:
Pg. 3 –The report states that “this initiative opens up opportunities for pioneers of industry and innovators pursuing transformative technology, and will create thousands of jobs in a new era of human space flight and exploration.” The inference almost seems to be that by moving out the “old” space workers, new jobs and workers can take their place.
Note also on pg. 3 there apparently is an attempt to blame the situation on “the last administration” and suggests that the shuttle program perhaps should have been continued. Did the individuals who wrote the report fail to read the Columbia Accident Investigation Board’s (CAIB) findings?
Pg. 4 – The report mentions “retraining programs," which again raises the point that space workers seem to be directed away from manned space flight fields. This nullifies the argument that these job fields were selected to find workers new jobs quickly as retraining takes time.
Pg. 6 – This page starts with “President Obama is committed to blazing a new trail of innovation and discovery in space.” It describes his vision as “broad” and “bold” – but it does not provide details as to what this vision is or how it will be accomplished. It states that the Constellation Program faced a number of “budgetary and programmatic challenges,” but does not make clear if the Obama administration made any attempts to correct them before they made their original decision to cancel the entire program. Ironically, the report notes that NASA was on a path to rely on Russia for access to the International Space Station, the same path that NASA is on under the Obama plan.
Pg. 7 – In what looks like a blatant political snub, the report highlights the Democratic politicians involved with efforts to reach a compromise on NASA’s future, but not the opposition. Sens. Bill Nelson, Barbara Mikulski and Rep. Suzanne Kosmas are mentioned, while Republicans who were instrumental in this bill, like Sen. Kay-Bailey Hutchinson and Reps. Pete Olson and Ralph Hall are not.
In the end, the underlying theme seems to be changing the fundamental nature of what Kennedy Space Center is into something else entirely. For example, the report mentions developing unused sections of land around KSC to develop potential renewable energy projects.
The report also frequently paints the picture that the U.S. has a vibrant future, but given the fact that the workers that are most likely to make this happen are being pointed somewhere else, like to work on solar panels or in IT jobs, the report comes across as disingenuous at best.
Much of this report promotes jobs that may help the region, but given that the space industry delivers $20 billion into the Space Coast economy annually, one has to question the wisdom of working to fundamentally transform this foundation. Why not direct these workers to fields that would develop the new manned space flight technology that the report repeatedly mentions? Why not direct them to the emerging commercial space arena that the President favors? The decisions in the report seem predetermined and politically-driven.
In the end the Space Industry Report itself provides the best explanation for the “how and “why:” it was written to “advance the President’s agenda for the transformation of America’s space exploration program.”