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Fiscal Cliff Jeopardizes Civil Space Jobs


In this illustration, a space exploration vehicle with astronauts approaches an asteroid.

The looming Fiscal Cliff could have dire consequences for NASA, the nation’s lead civil space agency, and NOAA, the agency responsible for satellite weather observations and climate studies, according to an analysis prepared for the Washington-based Aerospace Industries Association.

U. S.leadership in civil space as well as the nation’s ability to prepare for extreme weather events are at stake, according to the AIA report, The Economic Impact of Sequestration on Civil Space Program, prepared for the AIA by the George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis.

At NASA 20,500 contractor positions are at risk; at NOAA, 2,500.

“This report demonstrates that the biggest single threat to our space programs’ continued success are arbitrary and capricious budget cuts,” said AIA President and CEO Marion C. Blakey in a Dec. 13 statement that accompanied the report’s release.

“NASA and NOAA are responsible for cutting edge activities that expand the boundaries of knowledge and discovery, lead to economic innovation and save lives.  We can’t afford not to invest in these sources of American scientific and technological greatness.”

Precipitous spending cuts, of 8.2 percent, are scheduled to take effect across much of the federal government on Jan. 2 — if the White House and Congress cannot come to an agreement on a compromise course. Additional cuts at the two agencies would follow over the next eight years. Other federal agencies, both defense and non-defense, face similar reductions, which some economists predict will push the nation back into recession next year.

In total, 2.14 million jobs in theU. S.are at risk in 2013 alone, according to an analysis led by George Mason’s Stephen Fuller.

As far as NASA, 20,500 contractor positions could be lost, most of them engineers, scientists and skilled technicians.

At NOAA, the near term loss is estimated at 2,500 professionals, who design, build and operate satellites. There are no private sector counterparts to fill in.

Texas and California face the biggest employment losses from the NASA reductions, 5,610 and 4,586 jobs respectively.

In Texas, the losses would be focused on the Johnson Space Center in Houston, home to NASA’s human space operations and development.

In California, the losses would be spread among the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which develops and operates most of NASA’s planetary missions;  the Ames Research Center, where experts are assigned to research projects responsible for air traffic management, o astrobiology and extra solar planet discovery; and the Dryden Flight Research Center, which is focused on flight test and space hardware development.

The “fiscal cliff” is a consequence of the 2011 Budget Control Act and an on going debate over raising the nation’s debit limit. Part of the legislation calls for an automatic sequestration, or spending cut. Sequestration is set to initiate a cut of $1 trillion across DOD and non-DOD programs (including NASA and NOAA) over nine years, starting on January 2, 2013.



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