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Shuttle Program Exit Changes Space Coast Finance

This story was written by CBS News Miami Bureau Producer Megan Towey

Space shuttle Atlantis blasted off Friday afternoon to the International Space Station for its 32nd and final flight. After 132 trips, NASA's shuttle program has only two flights remaining.

Once Discovery and Endeavour launch from Kennedy Space Center later this year, the current shuttle space program will disappear into the pages of history.

"Each launch that goes off it gets more and more emotional for everyone involved here," said Amelia Woodbridge, spokesperson for the Brevard Workforce Development Network.

Emotional not just because it's the end of a profitable and legendary era, but for the impact the loss will leave behind. The Brevard Workforce Development Network is trying to help launch new careers for the estimated 9,000 space shuttle employees who will lose their jobs when Discovery and Endeavour complete their final missions. Those job losses are expected to cause a ripple effect through the entire region.

As many as 15,000 jobs in ancillary industries are also at risk of elimination with the space program shuttered. Everything from restaurants and hotels that cater to tourists to dry cleaners and hair stylists that service the space shuttle workforce are under threat.

Without the prospect of high-paying jobs in the area, many residents could opt to follow the money to other cities and states. An exodus away from the so-called Space Coast could leave behind empty homes and unfilled classrooms. This would significantly cut into tax revenues in an area already reeling from lost government investment.

In 2008, NASA activities injected more than $4 billion into the local economy. More than half of it went directly to income for the 40,802 jobs created by NASA's programs. Given the projected losses, the prognosis for the future is bleak.

For now though, the Space Coast does have some cause for hope. First, there is the one-time $40 million initiative for regional development and job creation that President Obama announced in April during a trip to the Kennedy Space Station. Then there is an additional $1.9 billion to be handed out over the next five years to upgrade and modernize launch facilities in the area.

From national assistance to local support, recent bills proposed by the Space Advocacy Agenda and passed by the Florida legislature (SB 1752) provide for a regional economic development package. The bill details the infusion of $31 million worth of space initiatives to boost tourism and make the region more attractive to the private companies that will soon take the driver's seat on space missions.

Contracts have been awarded to private space companies such as Orbital Sciences Corporation. Orbital has secured a contract to begin commercial cargo deliveries to the International Space Station once the current shuttle missions end. The hope for many along the Space Coast is that through investment, their facilities - an integral part of 20th Century space travel - can become as attractive to the newcomers as it once was to the old guard.

Sadly for Florida's Space Coast, Orbital, at least, has expressed plans to launch much of its fleet from Virginia.

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