Will Houston Continue to be “Space City”? Who knows?
For nearly 50 years, Houston has been ground zero for the United States space program. When NASA chose Houston as the location for its manned space flight center in the early ’60s, it became known around the world as “Space City”. Sadly, with the demise of the space shuttle program, Houston may not have that distinction for much longer.
Known for decades as the place where astronauts train and live, and the home of Mission Control, Houston’s place in the annals of space history seems assured. The critical question is whether Houston will have a significant role in spaceflight’s future.
A lot of people in the Clear Lake area are afraid it won’t. They say the last space shuttle flight wasn’t just the end of the shuttle program, it was the beginning of the end for Johnson Space Center.
We already know there will be major job losses. As many as 4,000 NASA and contractor employees will be laid off because of the shuttle program’s end, and those jobs may never return. That’s bad enough, but the worst blow may be the loss of Houston’s position and reputation as one of the country’s two centers of human space flight.
NASA insists JSC has a future, with management of the space station and leadership of the program to develop the space agency’s next space capsule.
Even so, a lot of people are uneasy. President Barack Obama has already designated the Kennedy Space Center in Florida as the place where astronauts on commercially built rockets and space capsules will be trained.
All this may be good economic and political news for Florida, and the area around the KSC, but it does not bode well for Houston. The huge and diverse overall Houston area economy will be able to absorb the loss, but it will be a devastating blow for the Clear Lake area around the JSC.
It’s going to be hard to play second or third fiddle, when you’ve played first fiddle for 50 years.