Workers at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) thought that after the shuttle program came to a close that they would face a “pothole” between the shuttle era and its successor – Constellation. This was before the 2008 presidential election. Then-candidate Obama initially stated that he would suspend manned space flight operations for a few years to support his education agenda – that didn’t go over so well.
And so, on the campaign trail Obama visited Brevard County in Florida and “adjusted” his point of view. To the people of the region what he promised sounded very, very good. Here was a candidate that promised to support NASA’s plans to return to the moon and he said he would work to limit the gap between the two programs. This elated the local area and Obama would go on to turn Florida from “Red” to “Blue.” Fast forward to Feb. 1, 2010 (on the seventh anniversary of the Columbia disaster no less) – and Obama broke all those promises in NASA’s 2011 Fiscal Year Budget.
For NASA’s space workers the sense of betrayal was powerful. Now the shuttle program would have no successor, NASA’s new (and vague) mission would be to develop new technologies, monitor climate change and according to the new NASA Administrator – boost the morale of Muslim nations. These workers were no longer looking at a “pothole” or even a “gap” it would be as U.S. Rep Suzanne Kosmas (D-New Smyrna Beach) called it – an “abyss.”
The President traveled to KSC on Apr. 15, 2010 to clarify his position regarding manned space flight. If workers were hoping to see the president, to plead their case – they would be left with little more than hope. Those employees that worked at the Operations and Checkout Building where the president would make his speech – were told not to be there the day of the president’s visit. Moreover, the president landed on NASA’s Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) – conveniently bypassing the throngs of protestors that surrounded the area to express their displeasure.
Insult was added to injury when, in what many have called a snub to NASA, Obama chose not to review the shuttle, Delta or Atlas launch pads – he only visited Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC 40) where SpaceX’s Falcon 9 was set to launch. While Obama had spoken of his support for NASA his actions spoke far louder than his words to KSC’s workforce.
Workers were no longer looking at just a transitional period. They were now facing “reeducation,” many would have to brush-off resumes decades out of date. A Task Force was appointed to determine how to best spend $40 million allocated by the president. The first $5 million would go to “jumpstart” nascent private space firms. Leaving $35 million to assist workers affected by Obama’s broken promises.
Job fairs and a “Best Ideas” forum gave workers either already laid off or soon to be laid off the first hint of what was to come. At the forum, the ideas were not about having workers build new spacecraft. Aerospace workers were being directed toward building cars (specifically Avera Motors), manufacturing eco-friendly light bulbs and Information Technology jobs. It seemed as if KSC’s space infrastructure was being intentionally dismantled.
Obama has paid a heavy price for his flexible view toward his promises. Polls conducted in Florida shortly after Obama was inaugurated show the president enjoyed a 65 percent approval rating in terms of his job performance. Since then his trajectory has gone somewhat “off-nominal” as his approval rating within the state has plummeted to just 46.1 percent.
Even if this disapproval carries over into the 2012 presidential election the amount of damage that Obama and his appointed officials has done could render NASA incapable of doing much of anything for well past 2017 when the first manned flight of Orion was scheduled to take place. Unfortunately many of the men and women that were to make that happen are now busy making eco-friendly light bulbs.