Oct 06 2010

Lightfoot: Congressional appropriations bill has Marshall 'moving forward' despite looming jobs loss

Huntsville Times

Robert Lightfoot, director of Marshall Space Flight Center, talked of "the signficant positive impact on Marshall" expected through the three-year NASA authorization bill in Congress and called it "a resounding vote of confidence in NASA's workforce."

Lightfoot discussed the appropriations bill and its potential impact on Marshall during a news briefing Tuesday morning at Marshall Space Flight Center.

"We're grateful that NASA received such strong bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate and when they authroized some 19 billion dollars for the fiscal year 2011 and some 58 billion over the next three years," Lightfoot said.

He voiced appreciation for Sens. Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby and Reps. Parker Griffith and Robert Aderholt for their "staunch support to NASA and Marshall."

On Monday, Sessions had told The Times editorial board that the Senate "did the best we could" and said what is most needed is "a really grand vision" for space exploration.

While Lightfoot talked of the excitement of "moving forward to get focus on our mission," it comes with the specter of the loss of 150 to 250 contractor jobs because of the demise of the Constellation program. Some 500 contract employees were laid off in June, though some have remained on the job.

"When the appropriations bill comes in ... we'll have to see what we can do, if we get to bring people back," he said. "The immediate reduction will be because of the replanning and restructuring. We'll see what happens."

Lightfoot said that "we have a lot of work to do to fully understand all of the authorization bill. It's a lot of pages. We're going through that now. The process isn't over. The authorization bill just provides a framework for policy."

Marshall Space Flight Center was assured that it would take the lead in the building and management of a heavy-lift launch vehicle, with a launch in 2016. The vehicle would be capable of "lifting payloads of 70 to 100 metric tons, evolvable to 230 metric tons over time," Lightfoot said.

Marshall will continue to be involved in the Space Shuttle program and as the primary payload operations center for the International Space Station, a mission that will continue through 2020.