Effects of NASA's shuttle program ending

The space shuttle Discovery on Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida as preparations are made for a scheduled launch.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

JEREMY HOBSON: If all goes as planned weatherwise, the Space Shuttle Discovery will launch for the final time tomorrow. It's one of the three remaining shuttles which are all facing retirement. NASA is transitioning more of its $19 billion annual budget toward other spacecraft that can travel deeper into space.

Paul Barrett has written about the economic consequences of all of this for the latest edition of Bloomberg Businessweek and he joins us now. Paul Barrett, welcome to the show.

PAUL BARRETT: Thanks very much.

HOBSON: Well first, I want to start with a line in your story -- "8,000 engineers, technicians and other employees are going to lose their jobs because of the retirement of the space shuttle." What is this doing to Florida?

BARRETT: Well what it's doing is making a really terrible economic situation much worse, particularly in the small towns around the Kennedy Space Center on the east coast of Florida.

HOBSON: But as you report, the impact goes far beyond the borders of the State of Florida. This really has to do with American competitiveness.

BARRETT: It does. While the American space program is adrift, the programs in countries such as Russia, China, India are really cruising ahead. And the United States stands to lose a significant portion of the market in the global space industry.

HOBSON: Where does the problem lie?

BARRETT: Well the problem lies in several places. But one space to start is in the fact that the federal government has come to treat the NASA Space Program as more of a federal jobs program, spreading resources out across a large number of NASA centers around the country and worrying more about preserving jobs as they exist rather than looking out into the future and figuring out how to best deploy resources. So politics is one big part of the problem.

HOBSON: Paul Barrett, after doing this reporting, do you think that the U.S. will be able to remain the world's leader in space?

BARRETT: I think that is now very much open to question with rising China, rising India. There's a real serious question whether the United States will remain on the cutting edge in this hugely expensive undertaking that requires centralized and collective action. This is not something that can be done by rugged individuals. Basically the whole country has to pull together and agree to do this and to spend a lot of money.

HOBSON: Paul Barrett, who's got a big story on NASA in the latest Bloomberg Businessweek, thanks so much for joining us.

BARRETT: You bet. Thanks for having me.


Paul Barrett is an assistant managing editor at Bloomberg Businessweek. He
wrote the story on NASA for this week's Bloomberg Businessweek.

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