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Space cutbacks imperil jobs here

As Congress debates the future of Space Station Freedom, Florida businesses are assessing the potential impact of scotching one of the most expensive and controversial projects in the history of space exploration. The station is intended as a step toward exploration of Mars, enabling astronauts to test the long-term effects of life in space.

After a House committee voted Monday to kill the project, supporters rallied Tuesday on Capitol Hill. Budget Director Richard Darman said President Bush would veto the parent bill if it did not contain space station money.

If the project is canceled, as many as 300 jobs would be cut at Honeywell Inc. in Clearwater, said Lindsay P. Ball, the company's space station program manager.

Honeywell, based in Minneapolis, employs 2,800 people at its Space Systems plant on U.S. 19, and another 800 at its Military Avionics unit on Roosevelt Boulevard in St. Petersburg.

Honeywell designs and builds navigation and control equipment for the space station and the space shuttle.

Ball said an informal survey this week by his staff concluded that as many as 1,600 workers in Florida would lose their jobs if the program were nixed.

Nancy Gillum, a Metric Constructors Inc. official in Tampa, said as many as 200 people, including employees and subcontractors, likely would lose their jobs if the space station program were cut.

Metric recently won a $56-million, three-year NASA contract to build a massive new facility on the state's East Coast to prepare elements of Freedom before they are launched into space.

_ Information from Reuters was used in this report.

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