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Colorado: Space industry needs funding, talent

Sandy Shore
Associated Press
Vail, CO Colorado

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado ” The space program needs a shot in the arm ” financially and emotionally ” or the country could lose its position as a global leader of exploration and development, a Boeing Co. executive said Tuesday.

James Albaugh, chief executive officer of Boeing’s Integrated Defense Systems, said funding for the U.S. space program has taken a back seat to the war on terror as other countries such as India and China have pushed ahead.

“You have to be worried about the threat of the new guy opening a shop down the street,” he said. “It’s not a time to take a back seat. It’s about our nation’s ability to lead and not follow.”

Albaugh was one of several speakers who addressed the 24th National Space Symposium, which drew about 7,000 industry representatives to a luxury hotel at the foot of Pikes Peak, not too far from the home of the nation’s space command about 60 miles south of Denver.

Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., and Rep. Mark Udall, D-Colo., agreed that NASA needs more funding. As voters prepare to elect a new president, Allard said they should consider the nation’s space policy and adjustments for potential threats.

A new report issued by the Space Foundation during the conference concluded global space industry earned at least $251 billion in revenue in 2007, up 11 percent from the previous year. That includes government and civilian applications from GPS devices to space shuttle platforms.

NASA’s budget rose about 3.1 percent to $17.3 billion for the fiscal year that began in October.

The foundation listed China’s government space budget for its civilian program at $1.5 billion, unchanged from 2006, based on numbers from the World Security Institute. India’s government budget was about $1 billion, up 8 percent, for 2007, the foundation said, relying on Space News data.

The space industry is facing a critical juncture as the shuttle program prepares for its end in 2010 and NASA moves into the Constellation program for the development of a new generation of rockets for moon and Mars flights.

NASA has said more than 8,000 contractor jobs in its manned space program could be eliminated by 2010, although the number of civil government workers is expected to remain the same.

Symposium speakers emphasized the need to encourage young engineering students into the industry, noting they favor other businesses, such as video games, that offer more rapid advancement.

The average age of an aerospace engineer is 54, said Albaugh, whose aerospace and technology company is based in Chicago.

He harkened back to early days of space exploration when Americans were caught up in the U.S. space race after Russia launched the Sputnik satellite some 50 years ago. Today, he said, few recall the excitement that came with the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs.

Udall will face Republican Bob Schaffer in November for the chance to replace the retiring Allard.


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