WASHINGTON – NASA chief Charles Bolden has sought to reassure his staff that the US space agency remains well positioned for the future despite the cancellation of a program to return Americans to the moon.
The change of course away from former president George W. Bush's vision of manned space exploration comes at a time when NASA is about to retire its three space shuttles with no replacement in sight.
After this year, US astronauts will rely on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft to travel to the International Space Station.
Bolden pointed to the nearly two billion dollars increase in NASA's budget in President Barack Obama's proposed 2011 budget to 19 billion dollars as evidence of the space agency's continuing viability.
"You have more money so you say you have more jobs," he said in a news teleconference Thursday.
However, Bolden did not provide specifics on the creation of new jobs.
The shuttle program's folding at the end of the year will lead to the loss of 9,000 jobs at the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida, of 14,000 that exist there today. Many of the jobs are with NASA contractors like Boeing.
Rather than spend money on Constellation, the canceled program to return US astronauts to the moon, Bolden said, "We are expanding the number of programs we have, so we can try to put people to do work who want to be involved in the space program."
Bolden's comments come just a week before a much anticipated visit by Obama to the Kennedy Space Center to set forth his vision for the US space program and to explain how he intends to preserve jobs and continue to attract talent.
As part of the administration's new approach, Obama's proposed budget would create a five year, six billion dollar program that puts the Kennedy space center in charge of helping the private sector develop launchers capable of ferrying astronauts to the ISS at lower cost, Bolden said Thursday.
He also recalled that the president's budget provides more than two billion dollars to modernize the Kennedy Space Center.
NASA's nine other centers in the United States also will be given new objectives.
The Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas will be assigned another five year, six billion dollar program to develop new technologies.
The Marshall Space Center in Alabama would have the mission of conceiving new heavy lift rockets to transport equipment needed for manned space missions outside the Earth's orbit.
The new work assignments "represent a bold new approach to exploring space that will enable NASA to get beyond low-Earth orbit and create robust near-Earth space flight capabilities," he said.
The US Congress still has the last word on the budget, however.
© AFP 2013