Colorado officials, lawmakers do little to save Orion space program |

Colorado officials, lawmakers do little to save Orion space program

Ann Schrader
The Denver Post
JSC2006-E-43965 (Oct. 2006) --- NASA's Constellation Program is getting to work on the new spacecraft that will return humans to the moon and serve as the building blocks for trips to Mars and other destinations in our solar system. The new spacecraft will be similar in shape to the Apollo spacecraft, but significantly larger. The tried-and-true conical form is the safest and most reliable for re-entering the Earth's atmosphere, especially when returning directly from the moon. This artist's rendering represents a concept of the Orion crew exploration vehicle in lunar orbit. (Depicts obsolete configuration.) Photo credit: Lockheed Martin Corp.

Colorado is among the states set to lose thousands of jobs and billions of dollars under a proposed shift in NASA’s budget, yet critics say state leaders have lagged in their efforts to preserve the jobs associated with the Orion spacecraft.

Stands taken by Colorado officials and lawmakers fall well short compared with other aerospace-rich states, where governors, lawmakers and economic-development officials have aggressively pushed to preserve the program, which aims to carry humans back to the moon and beyond.

Other states, including Texas and Florida, have launched coordinated efforts to save their local jobs that have included sending delegations to Washington, D.C., to lobby for keeping the programs. Colorado has not sent a delegation or joined in other efforts.

Meanwhile, thousands of workers remain in limbo as they await word on their futures.

“This is a highly visible program with enormous impact, and it’s not getting the kind of support other states are getting,” said Preston Gibson, president of the Jefferson Economic Council, which recently commissioned a study on Orion’s economic impact.

“We should be leading this,” said Dick Hinson of the Aurora Economic Development Council, noting Colorado ranks third in the nation in aerospace employment.

The JEC-backed study shows the Orion project has $301.3 million in annual direct and indirect economic impacts in the metro Denver area.

The impact includes a $236 million annual payroll for 837 full-time and 1,597 part-time Lockheed Martin Space Systems workers – with an average salary of $109,044 – and 2,961 workers for about two dozen subcontractors.

“These are the highly paid people who buy the $500,000 to $1 million houses. They’re the ones who are the consumers. They’re the ones that go and shop,” said Don Marostica, director of Colorado’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade.

Marostica said he received the council’s report last weekend.

“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, we don’t need this now in Colorado. We were starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel,’ ” he said.

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