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The Space Shuttle Endeavour rolls to launch pad 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. -- January 6, 2010 - 


Bill Radke: On Florida's Space Coast today, the governor, Charlie Crist, is touring some aerospace facilities. And what's he looking for? Jobs. NASA is winding down the space shuttle program, and that's going to put thousands of people out of work. Marketplace's Bob Moon reports there are only five more shuttle flights to go.

NASA Commentator: Three, two, one, solid-rocket ignition and liftoff! Liftoff on a voyage to the future.

Bob Moon: Worries about a future without the shuttle program are taking on new urgency with 7,000 Kennedy Space Center workers facing unemployment in the coming year. And the fallout could hit another 12,000 whose livelihoods depend on those jobs -- from fast food to health care.

Frank DiBello is leading the state's post-shuttle development efforts. He says it's not just Florida that stands to suffer from the loss of so many high-tech jobs:

Frank DiBello: To not preserve those would be ceding U.S. leadership in international space exploration. And I don't think the White House wants to do that, I don't think anyone in the country wants to see that happen.

No matter what President Obama decides about the country's future in space, it could be at least a decade before America is ready to send astronauts into orbit again aboard its own rockets. That's about as long as the Cape Canaveral area languished after the Apollo Moon flights ended.

But DiBello says times have changed now that everything from telecommunications to national security and climate research depends on space:

DiBello: Space is pervasive in our everyday lives and its applications advance the technologies being applied in these other areas.

DiBello is busy promoting workers he hails as innovative, disciplined and safety-conscious. But he concedes that nothing can replace the size of the workforce that's been needed to support the shuttle program.

I'm Bob Moon for Marketplace.