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Obama Faces Pushback on NASA Cuts

Space Shuttle
The space shuttle Discovery's solid rocket boosters light up ponds near the launch pad during liftoff Saturday May 31, 2008 at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. AP

President Obama next month will travel to Florida to explain his priorities for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration -- including his intention to eliminate NASA's program to send astronauts back to the moon, a move members of Congress from across the country are planning to resist.

The White House announced Sunday Mr. Obama will host a conference in Florida on April 15 to discuss the changes to NASA, such as the cancellation of Constellation, the $108 billion project to return astronauts to the moon by 2020 and take them into deeper space. The president has also proposed outsourcing many of NASA's current manned exploration programs to private spaceships.

Politicians from Florida and other states that benefit from NASA programs are defending Constellation.

Mr. Obama's budget includes about $2 billion for upgrades to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, but lawmakers from there are nevertheless skeptical of his plans.

"While continuing dialogue about the space program is welcome, I'm afraid we already know the outcome," Florida Gov. and GOP Senate candidate Charlie Crist said in a statement in response to the news of the president's April visit. "Unless we continue the Constellation program that allows America to be a leader in space innovation and provides jobs for many Floridians on the Space Coast, this discussion will leave many of the same problems unresolved."

Crist's GOP challenger, Marco Rubio, has also criticized the president for "more money on the cash-for-clunkers program than the space program" Politico reports, while Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek wrote an op-ed last month, calling the strategy "unacceptable."

Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) is spearheading a letter-writing campaign involving 29 lawmakers from nine states, the Houston Chronicle reports, to keep Constellation from shutting down. Olson's district includes NASA's Johnson Space Center and could suffer significant job losses under the administration's plans, the Chronicle reports.

Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans in favor of Constellation are developing a coordinated effort to deliver speeches in defense of the program on the House floor in the coming weeks.

GOP Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama is also speaking out against Constellation's demise, the Huntsville Times reports, citing the jobs that could be lost in Alabama.

"The jobs are important," Shelby said. "We're going to do everything we can to retain this program."