July 17, 2008

NASA Not Ruling Out Wildlife-Site Launches

By Laurin Sellers

NASA is considering abandoned launch pads at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for commercial space flights but has not given up the possibility of using environmentally sensitive sites in a world-renowned wildlife refuge for the private ventures, officials said Wednesday.

"We are in discussions with the Air Force to determine if there are any viable sites there," NASA's Mario Busacca said. "The public asked us to please go talk to the Air Force, and that's what we're doing."

Hundreds of people, from boaters and birders to former NASA engineers, protested the space agency's proposal to use about 200 acres inside the popular Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge for the Commercial Vertical Launch Complex. Another possible site borders the Atlantic coast inside the restricted area of Kennedy Space Center. Endangered wildlife and wetlands exist in both those sites.

With the shuttle program winding down, NASA began considering offering some its 140,000 acres inside KSC and the sanctuary for commercial launches. Rockets launched from the private pads could be used to transport cargo, astronauts, satellites and even tourists into space.

Although Busacca said NASA has not ruled out the refuge, Charles Lee, director of advocacy for Audubon of Florida, said Wednesday he is convinced that the wildlife refuge is no longer being considered.

An analysis of the viable locations and potential effect on the environment is due in October, according to NASA.

Image Courtesy Kim Shiflett / NASA


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