The story of lost dreams and 7,000 jobs on the Space Coast, while widely appreciated in aerospace circles and in the halls of Congress, is itself largely, and sadly, unknown to the American people. That might change this Sunday evening when 60 Minutes airs, “Jobs, Dreams Lost After Space Shuttle Program Ends” at 7 PM ET/PT.It’s not easy for many to understand why people on the Space Coast, not to mention the rest of the space community, are disappointed at the Administration’s decision that they are expendable. First, most of the workers you’ll see on 60 minutes did their jobs more for passion than money. Those workers weren’t paid inflated wages and there were no executive bonuses. Yet they launched 133 successful Shuttle missions. And they did so because they felt they were a visible part of making America great.
And the job losses in the space community mean a loss of institutional knowledge of how to build and launch a rocket. And to do so safely. Will Rogers once said, “Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment”. Experience helps flush-out the unk-unk’s that, if left to linger too long, can delay a launch date by months. In the case of the government-backed commercial cargo launchers, the years of schedule slip, really delay, are a very real manifestation of a drought of institutional knowledge of spaceflight.
In September 2010, a super-majority in Congress created the Orion and SLS programs from the ruins of the Administration’s efforts to terminate NASA’s human space flight program. For some today, there’s little care in the things that the nation can do that represent to the world how amazing our country is. But for those who kept, and future generations who will keep, our rockets flying and our astronauts safe, never mind those Americans who take pride in their nation’s accomplishments, the space program’s success is a marker to all that America is…a nation that explores.