WASHINGTON – Space centers in Ohio and Alabama will get added work as NASA shifts direction from flying circles around the Earth in a shuttle to zooming to the moon again in a brand new space vehicle.
NASA officials explained their plan Monday for moving work around, building new spaceships and keeping the 25-year-old shuttle going a few more years — without real budget increases.
The winner appeared to be NASA Glenn Research Center outside Cleveland, which will get more work, overseeing key parts of the new crew exploration vehicle that will carry six astronauts to the moon more than a dozen years from now.
The Ohio space center had earlier lost 700 jobs as NASA de-emphasized aeronautics, which is research on airplane engineering.
Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., also came out ahead Monday, getting additional design work with some robotic flights.
But overall, the same division of labor that served NASA during the Apollo and shuttle eras remains the same for what it calls its Constellation program — focused on the moon and Mars.
The brains of human space flight — mission operations — will remain in Houston at Johnson Space Center.
The muscle — overseeing the design of the space capsules and the launch vehicles — stays at Marshall. And the legs — the launch site — remains at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla.
Ames Research Center in the San Francisco Bay area lost some robotic work two weeks ago to Marshall, but gains a new small robot mission duty. Other NASA centers, those geared more toward science and aeronautics got quite small pieces of the moon action.
But NASA was short on details about the number of jobs.
The tight budget means future launches must be "enormously cheaper than the shuttle," NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said in a Washington press conference. While workloads may increase, staffing won't and in some cases may shrink.
If it costs the same to get in space in 2014 as it does now, "we will not be able to return to the moon," he said.
Two-and-a-half years after President Bush announced grand plans to go the moon and then on to Mars, NASA still doesn't know how much it will cost.
Congressional budget experts put the 15-year price tag at more than $125 billion. Because of cost problems last year, Griffin said a first launch of the new space vehicle is likely in 2014. Shuttles are supposed to stop launching in 2010.
"They really have got to learn how to do this cheap," said American University public policy professor Howard McCurdy, who has written several books about the space agency. "That's the big challenge. In 1960, the challenge was how to do it fast. Now the trick is to do it cheap."