Job losses resulting from new NASA budget a 'serious' concern

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on Thursday expressed concern that the end of his agency's manned space flight program could result in a significant number of lost jobs.

While the top space chief did defend the White House's proposal to end the Constellation program, which sets the goal of returning astronauts to the moon and first traveling to Mars, he lamented the likelihood that the agency's new budget mandate could come at the cost of 10,000 jobs at the Kennedy Space Center and other key bases.

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"A very serious and real concern for everyone is the jobs," Bolden told CNET in an interview on Thursday. "But this is what we call progress, unfortunately. If you look at every area of technology in this country, as you advance there are fewer and fewer manual-type jobs. That's what happens when you advance technology."

"We're doing everything within our power ... to help everybody understand we're expanding the amount of programs we have so that we can try to put people to work who are interested in being a part of the space program," Bolden continued. "Are we going to be able to employ everybody that used to work in shuttle? No, we're not. But that was never a vision."

The end of NASA's Constellation program is just one of many changes proposed as part of President Barack Obama's 2011 budget, which the White House debuted amid some harsh criticism earlier this year.

The proposal, which Congress must still approve, would shift shuttle taxi services to the private industry and quicken the retirement of dated space vehicles. Overall, NASA's budget would see an increase next year.

According to the White House, the changes arrive as part of an attempt to reorient NASA toward research and development so that the agency may design and implement technologies required to make those landmark missions to the moon and Mars. Bolden has publicly supported that shift repeatedly, stressing the agency could not fulfill the Constellation program's original goals with its current technology and funding structure.

Bolden did stress at a hearing last month that the moon and Mars are still NASA's ultimate goals. But his assurances hardly satisfied a growing contingent of congressional lawmakers, some of whom charge the new White House budget will leave NASA without a clearly defined mission.

However, news that the NASA changes could result in lost jobs is likely to further incense lawmakers who represent constituencies that include key NASA bases, especially in an election year in which jobs and the economy are paramount issues.