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Wicker 'skeptical' about NASA's direction

WASHINGTON — President Obama intention to cancel the Constellation Program, which is NASA’s plan to continue human space flight after the Space Shuttle is retired next year, has drawn a sharp criticism from Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.). Wicker said the “move could place at risk Mississippi’s continued leadership in our nation’s space program.

“Since 1961, Mississippi has played a central role in America’s ambitious efforts to reach beyond Earth’s atmosphere and explore the last frontier – space. At the John C. Stennis Space Center in Hancock County, our state’s skilled technicians and engineers have tested the rocket engines of the Apollo Program and the Space Shuttles which have put men on the moon and kept America at the forefront of space exploration.

“The termination of the Constellation Program would be a major shift for NASA and could have serious implications for the Stennis Space Center and the economic well-being of South Mississippi. Stennis’ workforce is approximately 5,400 with nearly half of that comprised of NASA employees and contractors. Seventy percent of Stennis employees live in Mississippi. The direct economic impact of Stennis within a 50-mile radius last year was $668 million. Economists project that directly and indirectly, Stennis was responsible for 28,000 local area jobs, more than $609 million in retail sales, and over $90 million in tax revenue in 2009.

“I recently spoke to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and shared with him my deep concerns over the proposed budget and its potential impact on Stennis. Administrator Bolden assured me that the nearly half-a-billion-dollar federal investment in Stennis’ new rocket testing facility would be completed and used for future rocket projects despite the proposed cancellation of the Constellation Program. He also assured me that Stennis will continue to play an important role in NASA’s ongoing exploration plans.

“I remain skeptical.”

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