Monday's announcement that Boeing would develop its new commercial space capsule at the Kennedy Space Center is good news for NASA, Florida and the space program. The move will help retain a highly skilled and well-paid work force in the Cape Canaveral area, allow NASA to focus its money and attention on exploring deep space, and make the Kennedy Space Center more of a destination for the emerging commercial space industry.
Gov. Rick Scott, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and representatives from NASA and Boeing joined other state and local officials for Monday's ceremony at the space center, underscoring the importance of the deal for both the public and private sectors. Boeing is one of several companies developing spacecraft to carry astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station. Using a NASA space shuttle hangar, it will develop, manufacture and test a reusable space capsule that can carry up to seven crew members to the space station and other destinations in low-Earth orbit.
Boeing said its operation will employ 550 people by the time the new capsule is ready to begin regular flights, scheduled for December 2015. That certainly will ease the loss of some 4,000 local jobs that disappeared as NASA wound down the shuttle program. And it would wean the United States away from relying on Russia to fly American astronauts into space. But the real value is down the road. Boeing said it chose the Kennedy Space Center because of its excellent facilities and ready access to highly skilled workers. Such high praise from a global leader in aerospace could draw other corporate partners to set up shop in Florida. Boeing is also helping to maintain Kennedy as a viable site to develop, test and launch an array of vehicles. And by taking on the less glamorous but costly job of ferrying cargo and people to the space station, Boeing and other companies are freeing up NASA to devote its money and attention to building a next-generation rocket that can propel manned exploration into deep space.
The announcement testifies to what can happen when political leaders on both sides of the aisle drop the partisanship and focus on creating jobs in Florida. Space Florida, the state's development arm for the aerospace industry, also deserves credit for following through on a partnership that further bolsters Florida's place as a nationwide leader in the space industry. The move will create new business opportunities even as it strengthens NASA's mission to explore the far reaches of outer space. State leaders should continue their efforts to maintain Kennedy as a world-class launch facility. The Boeing project could be the start of another historic era for the space program in Florida.