NASA plans change the future of contracting

Friday - 4/16/2010, 11:08am EDT

Marion Blakey, president and CEO, Aerospace Industries Association

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By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

When the current shuttle mission ends and Discovery lands, there are still just three flights left. After that, plans have changed.

Instead of going forward with President Bush's ordered Constellation moon program and Ares rockets, President Obama has announced plans for NASA to journey to an asteroid and then to Mars.

In the meantime, the President plans to provide almost $6 billion to private companies to build their own rockets and ships to fly in near Earth orbit to service the space station.

"It's great that he stepped up and declared that the United States is going to be in space exploration," Marion Blakey, president and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association told Federal News Radio. "Most importantly, human exploration of space and maintain leadership there."

Blakey said the President's plan is "a very big affirmation of NASA."

But there are still a lot of details to be filled in, said the former administrator of the FAA.

Blakey said the industry is still concerned about job losses and the potential of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

I think there's no doubt there are going to be job losses. The cancellation of the space shuttle program was going to have about 7,000 jobs lost or at risk. A lot of those were going to transfer into the Constellation program, and of course that's what he has also proposed cancelling. So I don't think (there's) any doubt about the fact that in a transition like this people are going to lose their jobs, and that's painful for them personally... and I'm talking about of course federal civil servants as well as contractor jobs. But the other thing is that the skills, the capabilities that go with those people - it's very critical that we look at what we need to retain for a vibrant space program and not have it all dissipate during this transition.

There has been both popular and political criticism of the President's plan. Blakey said the focus now shifts from the theoretical of what's possible to the reality of what's fundable.

In this whole transition period, I think everyone is going to be concerned about both the job loss and the industrial base, and preserving that. So that as we go through an R&D period and then move into a different approach to deep space exploration, there we have the capabilities to get it done. And I think that's all going to be a part of the debate right now that we're seeing.

There's always been a partnership between the private sector and the government in this area and I think we'll continue to see a strong partnership, but at the same time this really is going to be a period where there's going to be a lot of scrutiny and a lot of questions being asked as Congress looks at this, this spring and summer.

Blakey said while she thinks NASA's leadership and the Administration see the shutting down of the Constellation and Ares programs "as a shift" and not a step backwards, that "...meanwhile, at NASA, there are a lot of scientists, engineers, members of that workforce that put their heart and soul into the Constellation program, and I don't think there's any doubt about the fact that this is going to be a very tough time for all of those people and for the companies who really were working very hard to put that program into a successful advance."