Florida to Sen. Nelson: What the Hell Are You Doing?

Economic officials representing Florida’s Space Coast are furious over a draft bill from Sen. Bill Nelson that takes away billions of dollars in proposed NASA spending for the state to fund a heavy-lift vehicle largely build elsewhere.

In a stinging letter, Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast Chairman Bill Cunningham and President Lynda Weatherman accuse the senator of endangering the state’s efforts to develop a commercial space industry.

The prospect of a robust Commercial Space marketplace thriving in Florida, anchored by a new NASA Program Management Office for Commercial Crew, has brought forth a flourish of inquiries from businesses both large and small eager to participate in recapturing the space launch market that Florida has been forced to surrender overseas in previous decades. These inquiries involve the jobs and capital investment this community so desperately needs now.

Additionally, as you know it has long been a goal of Florida’s economic development practitioners to transition beyond our traditional role of ‘launch operations.’ It is the chance to move aggressively in the high tech industry and seize a share of the R&D and Technology Development for future Human and Robotic missions to Mars, the Moon, Asteroids and elsewhere. Again, this potential development has brought a rush of interests from businesses, universities and various collaborations to capitalize on this dramatic change in Florida’s future and has enabled us to envision a future far beyond our earlier dreams.

The Obama Administration has proposed a $19 billion NASA budget that focuses on commercial human spaceflight to Earth orbit and a substantial research program in new technologies. A draft authorization bill written by Nelson reverses those priorities by focusing on the immediate development of a heavy-lift vehicle and a NASA funded Orion spacecraft to carry astronauts into orbit.

I do not believe anyone in Brevard doubts your passion and commitment to NASA and its mission. However, the risk that this future for Florida might be bargained away for one more attuned to the needs of Alabama, Texas and Utah, in the name of political expediency, demands a response.

There is no one on the Space Coast, least of all this EDC, that doesn’t understand the need for a Heavy Lift Vehicle to enable NASA to go beyond LEO. And we zealously will seek to assure KSC participates fully in that endeavor. However, to sacrifice the workforce that so enriches our future is not something to which we can acquiesce quietly.

We at the EDC are ready to work with you to assure the final legislative package will generate the most jobs and the brightest future that our community deserves. Thank you for allowing the EDC to voice our concerns on the current NASA authorization bill, and we fully understand that this is the beginning of a long process. We look forward to working with you, as we have so successfully in the past, to assure this community achieves the future to which we are all committed.