Obama Space Bomb
Around the State
After promising -- twice -- during his campaign to preserve America’s space program, the president demonstrated an unfortunate lack of vision for the future of manned space flights. He proved his rhetoric was as hollow as his promises -- mere attempts to woo the people of the Space Coast so that he could win their votes for his election.
Thus, as it stands now, when the Space Shuttle is retired later this year, or early in 2011, America will have to rely on the Russians, European nations, or perhaps some as-yet-unnamed country to get our astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS).
Why on earth would America want to rely on foreign governments, some of which hold values so incompatible with our own? They should send Americans to the ISS?
What happens if these governments don’t want to fly our folks to the ISS? Interestingly, and not coincidentally, the Russians raised the price for a human to go into space from $25 million to $50 million on the very same day the president announced we would no longer send Americans into space! What price do you think they'll charge once the shuttle is retired? Why wouldn't the price continue to increase once the Russians know that we have few, if any, other options?
America’s national security is at stake. But few Americans, or Floridians, seem to appreciate the magnitude of this critically important matter.
Florida’s Congressional delegation collectively has not even issued a statement – for or against -- the president’s proposal. Although U.S. Senator George LeMieux has just authored an op-ed in Florida Today that hits all of the right points in arguing that the president has made a serious mistake in his NASA budget proposal. And Congresswoman Suzanne Kosmas and Congressman Bill Posey both were outspoken at the recent Space Summit in Orlando when it came to what could and should be done to right this terrible and shortsighted wrong.
With Florida having the fourth largest delegation in Congress, it's unfathomable that our delegation members have collectively remained silent on this huge challenge to Florida’s economy, which also has dire consequences for America’s space leadership role in the world.
We are looking at 7,000 direct jobs lost because of the impending shutdown of both the Shuttle and the Constellation programs and each of these jobs earn workers an average of more than $77,000 annually! These are not the type of workers who turn to unemployment. Many are going to leave Florida and the resulting brain drain will be as devastating to our state as a similar loss was in the aftermath of the Apollo program's demise.
In addition, Florida will lose 13,000 indirect (subcontractor) jobs at a time when the state is already pushing a 12 percent unemployment rate.
What was the president thinking? Well, he wasn’t thinking about Florida because despite the fact that he says his administration is focused on creating jobs, he just hit the unemployment grand slam by committing 22,000 Floridians to the unemployment rolls. The resulting job loss in other states that depend on the Constellation program will also be significant.
It seems to me that the president can print money anytime he wants for a cause he believes in. While I do not quarrel with him bailing out Wall Street, General Motors, banks or anyone else for that matter, why couldn’t he commit to maintaining America’s leadership in manned space flight? The cost was only $3 billion more annually. He has wasted more than that on his various economic stimulus schemes to pump up our economy, committing funds to areas that don't even create, or save, jobs.
The president could easily justify keeping the Shuttle flying as there are additional tanks and boosters available for more flights than the four slated now. That would mean that America would continue to rely on itself to get astronauts to the ISS and some jobs would be spared. Moreover, he could decide to underwrite the use of other heavy-lift rockets, like the Aires, that already exist and could help to keep America at the forefront of the space business.
I do agree with the president in his encouraging the development of a robust commercial space business and Florida already has a premier company in Space Exploration, SpaceX, which has already won a $1.5 billion COTS (Commercial Orbital Space Transportation) contract from NASA and is currently (with its own dollars,) rehabbing an Air Force launch complex at the Cape for future space flight missions.
Meanwhile, Space Florida is diligently working on diversifying the Cape’s space future with an intelligent Strategic Plan that calls for future reliance on Department of Defense rocket launches, encouraging other countries to launch from the Cape, and encouraging alternative energy projects that will keep some of the highly trained engineers at the Cape for years to come.
But all of this is for naught if the president can’t envision a role for Americans in Space, just robots. Imagine if President John Kennedy had challenged us to put a robot on the Moon instead of men? Would America have embraced that idea so warmly? We will never know because President Kennedy recognized the human need to explore and that the capstone achievement is for astronauts to accomplish it, not robots. We need a president who understands this clearly. When a president doesn’t, our Florida elected officials must take action to “draw a line in the sand” and demand that changes be undertaken.
So, now is the time for the governor to call Florida’s congressional delegation together for a meeting and get them to take action that will preserve Florida’s leadership role in manned space flight. Just because a president can’t dream doesn’t mean that the rest of us have to accept his shortsightedness. We have members on both the Authorizing and the Appropriations committees in Congress, and for once our entire congressional delegation must work TOGETHER to make this happen. Space is bi-partisan because we are all in this together regardless of our political stripes
As a native-born son of Florida, I have grown up watching America’s oldest high-technology industry – space – become the envy of the world. This isn’t just about jobs, it’s about America’s reliance on America to get the job done. National security is the subliminal thought that haunts us every day when we are challenged by terrorists and governments that do not share our values. In this day and time, we cannot afford to rely on the Russians or anyone else to secure America’s future in Space. We must do this for ourselves. And it all starts with the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral.
Barney T. Bishop III, is the President & CEO of Associated Industries of Florida, known as The Voice of Florida Business Since 1920.