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Houston, Florida Feel Shuttle Loss Differently

July 9, 2011

“¨The start of the final space shuttle mission on Friday is the beginning of the end of an era in American space exploration, and the populace of central Florida and Houston, Texas will both feel the impact of the program’s termination, though in vastly different ways.

“¨At the Kennedy Space Center, Merritt Island, Florida, approximately 3,200 shuttle contractors are scheduled to be laid off on July 22, Tom Brown of Reuters reported on Friday. The facility’s workforce, which Brown said topped 18,000 in NASA’s heyday, will be down to about 1,000 prior to the start of September, and those in and around the facility are bracing for the worst economically.

“¨ “I have been in business here 22 years and this is the worst I’ve seen it,” Stephen Gaughran, a pool hall owner in the nearby city of Titusville, told the Reuters reported.

“¨”I survive on people’s disposable income and I can tell you, right now they don’t have any,” he continued, adding that he predicted that the town currently dubbed “Space City, USA” could soon be more accurately described as “a ghost town.”

“¨”The job crunch at the Kennedy Space Center comes as Florida, which was hard hit by the U.S. housing and mortgage foreclosure crisis, continues to struggle with a wobbly economy and widespread unemployment,” Brown reported.

“¨The Reuters reported discussed the issue with University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith, who said that he believed that Titusville and other cities and towns in the area would successfully diversify their economy in time, but noted that the end of the shuttle program would have, in Brown’s words, “rippled effects across the economy.”

“¨An unidentified NASA contractor painted a far more grim portrait of the future, telling Reuters, “This place is going to be Flint, Michigan.” That city, Brown says, “has been decimated by the decline of the U.S. auto industry.”

ҬMeanwhile, according to AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein, Houston, the home of Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center, will not suffer the same economic impact. After all, as Mayor Annise Parker told him, the aerospace industry is only the fourth-biggest industry in the Texas city.

“¨”It’s a pride thing for a city whose baseball team is the Astros and whose basketball team is the Rockets,” Borenstein wrote in a July 7 article. “This is a metropolis of 4 million people that has tied its identity to space and to the shuttle specifically. But that identity has taken three hard hits and the loss of thousands of jobs is just one of them.”

ҬInitially, when then-President George W. Bush announced plans to shelve the shuttle program, it was to be replaced by a Houston-headquartered return trip to the moon. However, that proposed lunar mission was said to be over budget and was later cancelled by current President Barack Obama.

ҬTo add insult to injury, the largest city in Texas was not chosen to house one of the soon to be retired shuttles, which Borenstein says has angered many Houston residents.

“¨That is not to mean that jobs have not been lost and that the area’s economy will take at least a bit of a blow. According to Borenstein, the shuttle’s workforce peaked at 32,000 federal and contract workers in 1999, but currently the workforce is at 6,300, and NASA mission operations director Paul Hill told the AP that approximately 900 of those working on the ongoing final mission will also be laid off.

“¨”Last year, 16,613 people in Houston had jobs because of the Johnson Space Center in Houston,” Borenstein said. “NASA’s economic impact in Texas was $6.5 billion last year with $2 billion of that because of the space shuttle, the space agency calculated in a recent report. Most of that is in the area around Clear Lake, south of downtown. But Harris County, which includes Houston, has more than 2 million people employed.”

“¨But it’s about more than jobs or economic impact, the AP reporter says. It’s a pride thing for a city that has sports teams dubbed the Rockets and the Astros in honor of their stellar lineage.

“¨”Space was the heart and soul of Houston,” Bob Mitchell, president of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership, told the Associated Press (AP). But, he adds, “we’re not a gloom and doom type of city”¦ this community will survive. The concern this community has is will America survive as the leader in human space exploration?”

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