The space subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee is holding a field hearing today in Florida on the future of the shuttle workforce at the Kennedy Space Center. Actually, though, only one member of the committee is expected to be in attendance: subcommittee chairman Bill Nelson (D-FL), although Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL), who is not a member of the commerce committee, will also be in attendance. The hearing it split into two panels, one featuring top NASA officials, including administrator Mike Griffin, and one with state and local officials.
There is, of course, a lot of concern in Florida’s Space Coast region about their future with the retirement of the space shuttle and estimates that over 6,000 jobs could be lost during the transition to Constellation. “Sen. Nelson wants to hear from NASA whether they have any plans in place to help mitigate the (job) losses,” a Nelson spokesman told Florida Today. “He wants to know (if they are) planning on transferring any work to Kennedy Space Center to help minimize those losses.” (Such transfers would seemingly result in job losses at other centers, raising the ire of other members of Congress, but this side effect isn’t explored in the article.)
In addition to the hearing, an organization called Link to Launch is planning a rally this morning outside the hearing site to “provide a visual, high-profile opportunity for people to unite and show lawmakers the importance of space to our community.” Rally organizers told Florida Today that they’re hoping for 6,400 attendees, one for each job projected to be lost. The timing makes that estimate perhaps a bit optimistic: given that the rally takes place during normal working hours, it will be a challenge to get that core audience—people who have shuttle-related jobs and are worried about losing them—to attend. (One solution: bring the whole family, according to the Link to Launch web site. “We HIGHLY encourage you to bring family, friends, church members or anyone else interested. Children are very important to this event as they represent our future of the Space Program.” [capitalization in original])