Senators: NASA Should Use Existing Launch Areas, Not Wildlife Refuges

Florida’s two U.S. senators have urged NASA not to build a new commercial launch site in popular wildlife areas but to use existing launch locations instead, the Dayton News-Journal reports.

“There is great promise in the pursuit of a viable U.S. commercial space industry, and this can be achieved while respecting the existing and precious habitat of the Space Coast,” Mel Martinez wrote in a letter to NASA. His colleague, Bill Nelson, wrote a similar letter to the space agency this week.

The space agency is studying whether to build a new launch complex on one of two sites on north end of the Kennedy Space Center. The Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Canaveral National Seashore co-manage the areas.

The proposal has generated strong opposition from birdwatchers, fishermen and other locals who use the popular recreation areas. They fear the sites could be damaged by the rocket facility and closed to users.

One solution would be to situate the new launch complex at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, where there are a number of abandoned launch facilities. Nelson’s letter indicates that Air Force Brig. Gen. Susan Helms, who oversees the station, is willing to work with NASA on finding a location for the facility.

NASA: Up to 6,400 Jobs Lost as Shuttle Retires

The Orlando Sentinel is reporting that up to 6,400 contractors could lose their jobs at the Kennedy Space Center after the space shuttle is retired in 2010.

In a report due out on Tuesday, the space agency estimates that the contractor staff could fall from about 8,000 today to between 1,600 and 2,300 in 2011. Employment would begin to pick up in subsequent years as NASA prepares to launch its new Ares/Orion system. Far fewer employees will be needed to launch the new system.

Protect Meritt Island Wildlife Preserve, Newspapers Say

The Daytona Beach News-Journal and Orlando Sentinel have have thrown their editorial weight behind citizens who are opposed to building a new commercial launch facility in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge at the Kennedy Space Center.

About 200 residents spoke out against the idea during a recent public hearing. The refuge site is one of several locations being considered. Residents suggested that the new facility be built on a nearby Air Force site that already hosts abandoned launch pads.

“Considering that some 1 million visitors a year trek into the refuge — birders, boaters, fishermen, hunters and hikers by the droves — one would think officials might have measured the potential economic blow to tourism and related loss of jobs from closing parts of the refuge against the 200 jobs and economic prospects of commercial space flight. NASA hasn’t. Interior Department and state officials should,” the Dayton editors wrote.

The Orlando Sentinel editors were a bit more blunt: “What part of the word ‘refuge’ doesn’t NASA understand?”

Meanwhile, Sentinel columnist Mike Thomas credits NASA for holding public hearings and doubts agency officials will build anything in the wildlife refuge. “If anything, it seems as if they are sabotaging the idea,” he wrote.

Griffin: KSC Could Lose Thousands Of Jobs

Thousands of people could lose their jobs as NASA transitions from the space shuttle to its new Ares/Orion system beginning in 2010, NASA Administrator Mike Griffin warned this week.

“Our new systems will require and should require fewer people to operate the shuttle which is an expensive system,” Griffin said.

Our view: An ear full

Florida Today questions the feasibility of a commercial spaceport at Kennedy Space Center in the wake of public hearings where residents spoke against its possible location in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. The newspaper wonders whether the project is financially feasible and whether it would have a detrimental impact on tourism and the environment. “[Residents] also offered a good suggestion: Consider building the complex at abandoned launch sites at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station,” the paper writes.

Wildlife refuge is for birds not rockets, group tells NASA

An eclectic group of residents composed of birders, boaters, nudists and former NASA employees pleaded with the space agency not to build private launchpads near a world-renowned wildlife refuge, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

“That you would even consider it boggles my mind,” Wes Biggs of Orlando told NASA representatives during a public hearing. “The Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge isn’t just another refuge. It’s one of the jewels of the federal wildlife system, and it is known worldwide.”

NASA wants commercial companies to build new launch facilities at Kennedy Space Center. It is considering several possible locations. Residents urged agency officials to make use of an abandoned Air Force range for the project. However, agency officials said it would be difficult to obtain the land from the military.

Florida Today also has a story about the public hearing.

Space Center expansion plans may threaten hot fishing spot

Kennedy Space Center’s proposed commercial launch facility has generated some concern among one group – local fishermen, according to the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

The fishermen are worried that a new launch complex would permanently close Mosquito Lagoon south from Haulover Canal. The fishing spot is known sas the Redfish Capital of the World.

NASA officials say they are considering two sites, one of which is near Mosquito Lagoon. They will be holding a series of public hearings to obtain input from the public.