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Thousands Rally for Space Jobs Ahead of Obama Visit

April 12, 2010 -- Thousands of aerospace workers and local politicians gathered in Cocoa on Sunday for a rally to urge the White House to support human spaceflight. The event came four days before President Obama is expected in Brevard County for a major address to outline his vision for space exploration.

Bob Pattison was at Sunday’s rally with his wife and two kids.  He’s an engineer for space shuttle contractor United Space Alliance, and he hopes he won’t be one of the 9,000 Kennedy Space Center workers expected to lose their jobs when the shuttle program ends later this year. 

He had been angling for a position with NASA’s Constellation program, the project that was supposed to design a new spacecraft to replace the shuttle.  Pattison was shocked when President Obama announced in February he wanted to cancel Constellation.

“To not really know what direction to go in now, it makes it very difficult for a professional like myself,” he said. “What is the goal?”

A parade of politicians at the rally called on President Obama to answer that very question when he visits the Space Coast on Thursday.  They included Democratic Congresswoman Suzanne Kosmas.

“We need a plan, Mr. President, for space exploration that identifies a destination, a NASA-led vehicle, and a timeline,” Kosmas said, “so our workforce will be focused and ready to do what it is designated that they should do for the next phase of space exploration.”

Mr. Obama says he wants to help private aerospace companies ferry humans to orbit.  Just last week, NASA released details of a White House budget proposal that would give Kennedy Space Center $5.8 billion over five years to manage the commercialization effort.

But Republican U.S. Senator George LeMieux said he’s not satisfied with that.

“The private sector is not ready to take a man to the moon,” he said on the sidelines of the rally. “The private sector is not near ready to take a man to Mars.  That only can be done by NASA.  Look, there’s a lot of things the federal government should not do, but one of the few things that the federal government in this country can only do is NASA and go to the moon and to Mars.”

Not everyone agrees that the Constellation program’s goals of sending humans back to the moon and on to Mars are even the right objectives for NASA.  But Senator LeMieux had a further message about President Obama’s plans to cancel Constellation.

“The president can propose these changes, it’s the Congress that has to approve ‘em,” he said, “and the law of the land right now is that we have a Constellation program.”

He's convinced Florida’s Congressional delegation won’t let Constellation fade away.

“We’re not gonna make this change.  I can tell you right now there is bipartisan opposition to cancelling human spaceflight.  We are not going to do that.”

LeMieux says he is willing to work with President Obama when he visits the Space Coast on Thursday. 

Few details have been released about the trip so far.  NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said last week he expects the President to make a major space policy address and meet privately with some of the members of Congress who will be attending the conference.

Click here to listen to a report on the rally from 90.7's Judith Smelser

Coverage Note:
NPR and WMFE plan extensive coverage of President Obama’s visit to the Space Coast.  Stay tuned to 90.7’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered all week for the latest news.


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