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The Associated Press April 12, 2010, 5:38PM ET

Udall says he's hopeful about Colo. space jobs

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall said he's guardedly optimistic about saving space-related jobs in Colorado after speaking with NASA officials on Monday, despite cancellation of a major space program.

Udall and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, both Colorado Democrats, met with NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden to discuss the impact on Colorado of President Barack Obama's decision this year to cancel the $100 billion Constellation program, intended to return humans to the moon.

Gov. Bill Ritter also wrote to Obama urging him to reverse course and consider the economic impact of the cut.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Jefferson County outside Denver is developing the crew capsule for Constellation. Canceling that component would directly lead to the loss of 1,000 jobs, Udall said. Some estimates say another 3,000 related jobs would also be lost.

Udall, speaking by phone with reporters at the National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, said he was encouraged that Bolden told him NASA is still committed to human space flight.

It's not clear what type of program Obama envisions to replace the space shuttle fleet, which is being retired. He's expected to address that on Thursday.

Udall said his plan is to keep the pressure on Obama "but not light my hair on fire."

Udall said canceling Constellation didn't make sense, but he conceded Congress hasn't provided enough money for it.

"I'm looking to develop a long-term strategy," he said.

NASA has already spent $9.1 billion on Constellation. The Obama administration has said the program would have used old technology to visit places astronauts had already been.

It included construction of two new rockets to carry the crew capsule, and they were also canceled.

NASA and the White House have said the space agency would spend money on new rocket technology, including in-orbit fueling, that could be used to send astronauts to a nearby asteroid, to the moon or the Martian moons.

The Denver Post reported that other states at risk of losing NASA-related jobs, including Texas and Florida, have sent delegations to Washington to lobby to protect their jobs.

Ritter spokesman Evan Dreyer said Colorado has been working with the White House, its congressional delegation and Lockheed Martin to try to protect the jobs. However, he said the state hasn't hired a lobbyist to work on this issue on Capitol Hill.

He said other states may have taken a different strategy because, unlike Colorado, they have NASA regional centers.

"We will fight extremely hard to protect every single one of those jobs," Dreyer said.

At a forum with state lawmakers on Monday, Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch -- who represents many of the people whose jobs are at risk -- questioned whether Colorado has done all it can.

That angered U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., who said Colorado's delegation has been working hard to protect them and that the fight isn't over yet. Republican Reps. Mike Coffman and Doug Lamborn wrote the first letter urging the administration to back off the cuts, he said.

"We're hunkered down," Perlmutter said.


Associated Press Writer Colleen Slevin contributed to this story from Denver.

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