Contractors see pros and cons in proposed NASA budget

By Trang Do - Bio | Email

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - Contractors already play a huge role in NASA's operations, but these commercial companies could get an even larger piece of NASA's pie if President Obama's 2011 budget proposal is passed.

The budget includes more than a billion dollars for private companies to develop rockets, and the plan is for $6 billion over five years.

Contractors WAFF 48 News spoke to said the possible cancellation of Constellation will have ill effects for them as well.

The U.S. commercial space industry is getting a huge boost in President Obama's proposed 2011 budget.

If the president has his way, two contractors with workforces in North Alabama, Boeing and United Launch Alliance, will receive a chunk of $50 million to explore the potential of commercial rockets to take humans into space.

It's a proposal that's troubling to former NASA administrator Dr. Michael Griffin.

"With the existence of human space flight left open to the success or failure of commercial entrepreneurs, there will be tens of thousands of job losses," Griffin said.

Current NASA administrator Charles Bolden disagrees.

He said the commercial space flight industry could potentially create about 5,000 new jobs in the future.

But there's no guarantee those jobs will be in Huntsville.

Contractors said the axing of the Ares program could send Huntsville's irreplaceable knowledge base elsewhere.

"It takes years to develop rocket science,"said Tony Jones, Boeing Huntsville site executive. "You can't take somebody right out of college and develop the skills sets and the knowledge to be able to do the things we do in Huntsville."

"It's not just people moving, it's careers interrupted," said Paul Hoff, CEO of Davidson Technologies, Inc. "It's people that go into telecom and we'll never get them back into space flight, to me that's the longer term, worse consequence."

There's also greater potential to lose young talent, like UA-Huntsville sophomore engineering student Tony Cannizzo, whose dream is to build rockets at the Marshall Space Flight Center.

"If we're not exploring," Cannizzo said. "If we're not continuing and there's no private businesses right now that are ready to take over. I don't know where I'm going to be once I get out of school."

This budget isn't final. It still needs to be approved by Congress.

©2010 WAFF. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.