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Feb 2, 2010 10:42 PM by Andy Koen

Ditching moon mission could cost Colorado

President Obama has scrapped NASA's $100 billion plan to return astronauts to the moon.

Around $9 billion has already been spent on the Constellation Project, much of it through aerospace companies whose research and development branches are based in Colorado.

The Orion Crew Vehicle, a modern day equivalent of the LEM from the Apollo days, was being designed and tested by engineers at Lockheed Martin in Denver.

Janet Stevens, vice president of communications for the Space Foundation in Colorado Springs says projects like Orion will feel the biggest impact of the president's decision.

"That is a huge disruption," Stevens said. "It's a disruption in Colorado where a lot of the work has been done."

Stevens adds that scrapping the project leaves the space agency without the simply defined mission that the moon and Mars missions provided.

"This is a country that likes big goals," Stevens said.  "We're a little concerned that that's not going to inspire people as much as we like to."

It's difficult to tell exactly much of $100 billion would have been spent on development through companies in Colorado.

However, economist Fred Crowley of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs says jobs in the aerospace industry are vital to the Pikes Peak Region.

Crowley estimates that for every dollar the government spends in the aerospace industry here, the local economy benefits by three to five times that amount.

NASA will receive roughly $6 billion over the next five years to help private companies develop new spacecraft.

The space agency is likely to rely on these privately developed "taxi" spacecraft to shuttle astronauts back and forth to the International Space Station.

The shuttle program is scheduled to be phased out by late 2010 or early 2011, leaving NASA to buy seats on Russian rockets in the meantime in order to transport astronauts into space.

"The idea of having commercial spacecraft in the US that can carry our own people to our own space station, that's good news and that's sort of the natural progression of how any industry like this works," Stevens said.

Colorado ranks second behind California in terms of the size of the space industry within the state, and Stevens thinks that the private space industry will flourish here in the long term.

However, she says better government safety standards and industry oversight need to be developed.

The budget still needs to approved by congress.  So, there's a chance that some of the moon mission projects and money could be saved.

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