Saturday, July 10, 2010

First Meeting of Huntsville Space Professionals

One of the advantages of being on a no-overtime type of schedule is that if you work really late one day, you can get out early on, say, a Friday. That's what I did yesterday after kicking it until 10 p.m. Thursday. Since I had the time and might face employment drama after September 30, I decided to attend the first meeting of Huntsville Space Professionals (HSP), a group formed by some downsized NASA folks here in Rocket City, at Chan Auditorium at University of Alabama-Huntsville. The goal of the group is "Preserving and promoting Huntsville's talented human space capital." In short, they want to keep space jobs--or at least the people who filled them--here in Huntsville.

Also in attendance were Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and WAFF TV, Channel 48. (Note to the media: never mind your pushy questions--some people don't like your Very Bright Lights shining in their face--and I was in the back of the room.)

One of the speakers was Lori King-Taylor from Trinity Performance Solutions, which appears to be a staffing company of some sort. Another site she referenced was by the Huntsville Chamber of Commerce. Trinity is helping HSP with establishing a career center, which will assist people with a job search web site, resume writing, interview skills, 401(k) options, entrepreneurship, and counseling. King-Taylor encouraged the crowd: "Keep your head high. This is not your fault. You have done nothing wrong."

Tommy Battle indicated that his office is talking to some of the likely "winners" under the Obama administration's space policy, including firms like SpaceX, Bigelow Aerospace, and Virgin Galactic. There are a lot of smart, space-minded people in Huntsville who would prefer to stay here, thank you very much, and there is a lot of specialized equipment and infrastructure needed to build and test rockets here in Alabama, so the road to space will still go through Huntsville. We'll see if these other companies bite or not. And we still don't know what Marshall Space Flight Center will end up doing under the new policy/budget. In any case, Battle is covering all the bases and working with the Alabama Governor's office as well. He had to go to a meeting, so he wasn't able to take Q&A.

The HSP guys also contacted former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin, who is now an "eminent scholar" and professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at UAH. Griffin was out of the country, but responded to Q&A via email. His general comments were that (unsurprisingly) he was not happy with the new policy, but that he has "no influence over this matter." With regard to people worried about looking for jobs, he recommended that people "look in Huntsville first," pointing to opportunities on the Army side of Redstone Arsenal. For dedicated souls who still want to work for NASA, he recommended reviewing the Space Policy and "go where the money is." On the whole, Griffin hoped that Congress "just says no to the ridiculous space policy advocated by the Obama administration."

After reviewing Griffin's emailed-in responses, the HSP folks reviewed the status of the NASA budget. H.R. 5614, the "Protecting Human Space Flight Act," which was introduced by Congressman Robert Aderholt (R-AL) "To impose certain requirements on the expenditure of funds by National Aeronautics and Space Administration for the Constellation Program." More to the point, the point of the bill is to slow down or stop what's going on with Constellation. Otherwise, the NASA budget is entering the "markup" part of budget cycle, where Congress takes what it's been given and starts fiddling with the numbers. The House started its markups June 29, the Senate is due to start theirs July 14. The main difference in the Senate bill is the addition of one more Space Shuttle flight in June 2011. There is a lot of behind-the-scenes "number crunching" going on at the moment, so we'll see what happens. While NASA received a $19 billion budget from the House, they deferred a decision on how to appropriate (spend) that money. We're very likely looking at a Continuing Resolution (CR) come the start of the new fiscal year (October 1).

The HSP guys opened the mike to public comment. There were some questions from the audience on job assistance--the primary reason most folks were there, I'd gather. If the HSP guys were disappointed that more people weren't fired up or getting up to speak, they covered it pretty well. That's not how this town works. Engineers aren't that exciteable, in my observations, and excessive activism is sometimes a political risk.

One gentleman from Southern Capital Management said that he would be willing to share proceeds from a property that he is selling as a commercial property--if folks are willing to put in "sweat equity" to help improve it. Sounds like it'd be serious digging and sweating. He was looking for people with their own Bobcats. Still, the offer's there if you're willing to work...

Otherwise, several Human Resources reps from Technicore, MTS, and United Space Alliance went up to the front of the room to talk to people and collect resumes or other contact information. The HSP guys mentioned that Jacobs was hosting a job fair at the Huntsville Museum of Art 9 a.m. to Noon July 13, and that HSP would be having a meeting at the Monte Sano Lodge next week sometime. Then the meeting more or less broke up.

I am not certain how to rate the effectiveness of this meeting. As I walked in, they were passing out copies of the Obama administration's space policy to make people aware, and they "weren't asking people to take a stand either way." About 50 people showed up, and they managed to get the mayor and the media to show up, so that's a step in the right direction. The HSP guys were looking for feedback on what else they could be doing. I honestly couldn't say. The uncertainty around Huntsville will be around for awhile. "We're caught in a big political game that's going on over our heads," as more than one person said. What happens next is anyone's guess. In the meantime, unfortunately, this group will be necessary for awhile.


Tina said...

I debated going to this event yesterday. I thought that maybe I should. I didn't know how informative or beneficial it would be. Sounds like it wouldn't have helped much. No new information than what was known before.

Politics... I hate politics.

— Tina

Bart said...


Well, there were people there hiring...


Steve Bruhn said...

That was a great summary, thanks.

I'm with HSP and it is good to get honest feedback.

We know that the bottom line is "Where is the job, and when can I start?" All the rest is just talk, we admit it!

Quite a few engineers do hate politics. We aren't trying to drag people into the endless debates going on, but we do hope to explain it so people know more about what happened and what will happen.

HSP will be what people make it out to be. Everyone is welcome to be a part of it-It's not a closed club. Hopefully it will help some people find work in the area and make a difference.