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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Obama faces Florida fight over NASA



President Obama formally unwrapped his 2011 budget and confirmed the fears of Florida lawmakers: He wants to scrap NASA's plan to resume manned missions to the Moon and replace it with a "bold new approach" that courts private enterprise to do the work.

But the proposal will not pass without a fight.

Over the past few days, Florida lawmakers have issued a series of stinging denunciations of the plan and a fresh round will come later today, including a 3 p.m. news conference by Sen. Bill Nelson (UPDATE 4 p.m.: See Nelson reax in jump). "The Space Coast and communities across the country have been looking to the President for leadership and a bold vision for the future of space exploration, and after months of delays he seems to be falling short," Rep. Suzanne Kosmas, D-New Smyrna Beach, said last week. "It is simply unacceptable and I will fight back, along with my colleagues from both parties, to maintain a robust space program and to preserve as many Space Coast jobs as possible.”

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson told reporters he was troubled by the cancellation of the rocket. “We potentially now have another problem, Houston,” he said, a modern adaptation of the famous words uttered in the Apollo 13 mission.

“Under the Constitution, the Congress has the purse strings,” Nelson noted, meaning Obama is just providing a proposal. But he said that the sweeping changes have been known for years and that Florida needs to focus on creating as many private jobs surrounding space as possible.

The math is difficult.  Florida could lose 7,000 space jobs under the proposal, according to estimates, while commercial enterprise could bring 1,700, according to Nelson. There would be several hundred other jobs created under funding to modernize Kennedy Space Center.

“We’ve known this was coming, the question is how can we ameliorate that by bringing in additional work and keeping the finest launch team on planet earth together,” Nelson said.

[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 12:16pm]


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