(CBS News) When the last space shuttle took off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in July -- when the crowds left and 7,000 space center workers lost their jobs -- what happened to Brevard County, Florida? Scott Pelley tells the story of a county struggling with the loss of its largest employer, and of former shuttle workers who miss both the paycheck and the deep pride they had in their work.
The following script is from "Hard Landing" which aired on April 1, 2012. Scott Pelley is the correspondent. Robert Anderson and Nicole Young, producers.
President Obama canceled NASA's plan to replace the space shuttle in favor of a more modest program, and then Congress slashed the funding for that. So, for the first time in 50 years America is not the leader in spaceflight. Fact is, we couldn't launch an astronaut today if we had to. With the end of an era, we wondered what would happen to the generation that put America in space. So last July when the smoke cleared from the last space shuttle launch we stayed behind in Brevard County, Florida. The home of the Kennedy Space Center. What comes after reaching for the stars? For many, in Brevard County the answer is: a hard landing.
There was nothing like it in the world, arguably the greatest engineering achievement of man. At liftoff, it weighed four and a half million pounds, its top speed 17,000 miles an hour.
[The space shuttle spreads its wings one final time for the start of its sentimental journey into history.]
It was built by the hands of people like Lou Hanna.
Lou Hanna: It was the experience and the job of a lifetime. I was working with Pad one day, with a friend of mine. And he's a crane operator too. And I ask him, I said, "How many other crane operators do you suppose that there are doing what we're doing? There's two, you and me."
Shuttle work wasn't just work. There was enormous pride in doing for America what no other workers in the world could even dare. Lou Hanna manned a gigantic crane that cleared the platform before launch. He worked on the first shuttle in 1981. And the last, 135 missions later.
Scott Pelley: What did seeing the last shuttle launch mean to you?
Lou Hanna: I felt anger.
Scott Pelley: Anger?
Lou Hanna: Oh, yeah. Because this does not have to be the last launch. It doesn't have to end this way. I mean, it, it just doesn't make any sense. It doesn't compute. I guess I'm still in denial because I'm thinking they're gonna call me back one day. "We got a launch coming up. We need your help." How can they do that?
They did it to save three billion dollars a year. Now the only way an American can fly into space is to buy a seat on a Russian rocket. At the Kennedy Space Center, 7,000 workers lost their jobs.
Fifty years of liftoffs are becoming eight months of layoffs.
[The space shuttle pulls into port for the last time.]
Have a look around Brevard County. It's shrinking. Lots of people are moving away taking businesses down with them.
Chris Milner: It was like, bam, gone. Gone. Gone.
The work ethic that built the shuttle keeps Chris Milner fighting to hang on.