Sunday night, the CBS newsmagazine “60 Minutes” aired a segment (video above) on the impact the retirement of the Space Shuttle program has had on Florida’s Space Coast, including profiling some of the people who lost their jobs as a result and the broader economic impact on the community. It’s hard not to sympathize with those people who have struggled to find work in the months since losing their jobs. The segment, though, has taken on something of a political dimension as well.
“President Obama cancelled NASA’s plan to replace the space shuttle in favor of a more modest program,” CBS’s Scott Pelley said in his introduction to the segment. “And then, Congress slashed the funding for that.” The implication, also expressed in the segment, was that many or even most would still have jobs there if President Obama hasn’t pushed to cancel Constellation in 2010. (Left unsaid is just how many shuttle-specific workers would have been let go even if Constellation had been retained, especially since the program was at the time of its cancellation still several years from the first Ares 1/Orion flight.) Congress also gets dinged for cutting commercial crew funding, with again the implication that more money would have retained more KSC jobs, although most of the current commercial crew development work is being done outside of Florida.
On Tuesday, NASA administrator Charles Bolden (traveling this week in Australia) responded to the “60 Minutes” piece in a blog post on the NASA website. The segment, he argued, “missed an awful lot of important context about the end of that era and where we’re headed from here.” Constellation was behind schedule, lengthening the gap in US human space access, he said, while commercial entities can more more quickly to fill that gap, with NASA following with the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion. He also noted that unemployment is going down in Brevard County, the heart of the Space Coast, and had reached its lowest levels since May 2009, more than two years before the final shuttle flight.
By that time, though, the segment had been used as ammunition against the Obama Administration. The Republican National Committee, through its @gop Twitter account,publicized a blog post by the Sunshine State News that likened one person interviewed in the “60 Minutes” piece, Mike Carpenter, to Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, aka “Joe the Plumber”, a figure in the 2008 presidential campaign. The post also quoted Republican officials saying that Obama broke promises he made in 2008 to retain jobs at KSC.
(Sidebar: although Wurzelbacher didn’t do much in the long run to boost John McCain’s presidential campaign, he has returned to politics, winning the GOP nomination for Ohio’s 9th congressional district. He will face incumbent Democrat Marcy Kaptur in the redrawn district which now includes, on its eastern edge, NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. Kaptur defeated another incumbent, Dennis Kucinich, whose district had previously included Glenn.)
Democrats fired back Tuesday, the Miami Herald reported, with comments by Michael Blake, the Democratic mayor of Cocoa, Florida. Blake argued that Mitt Romney, the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, would be far worse when it comes to space policy than the current administration, claiming that Romney’s proposals for budget cuts could clash NASA’s budget by $4.5 billion. “When it comes to NASA and space exploration, it is clear that Mitt Romney is completely wrong on the issue and out of touch with the Space Coast,” he said.