"We're going to have equivalent number of jobs, actually an increase," said Wayne Hale, a NASA manager working on transition issues. "All we're talking about is where they're going to be."
There is a five-year gap between the shuttle's retirement in 2010 and the first manned Constellation flight planned in 2015. That has encouraged some in Congress, particularly those who represent NASA's space centers, to propose huge funding infusions to keep the shuttle flying.
Hale said that's impossible; any extension of the shuttle's life would only delay Orion's launch.
"It is a nice thought," Hale said. "The fact of the matter is it's too late. The talk of throwing a bone NASA's way, the numbers that I've heard are not even close to what it would take to continue to fly the shuttle out past the 2010 deadline."
Hoping to keep well-paid workers from losing their jobs or moving, officials are offering advanced job training and trying to land new contracts from NASA or other high-tech companies.
New Orleans is courting shipmakers that could employ the seamless-melding technology used to make the shuttle's tanks. Florida's Brevard County has already landed assembly work for the Orion capsule and is courting space tourism companies that could launch from Kennedy.
"When companies go to relocate, one of the first questions out of their mouth is the availability of an effective labor force. All the beautiful brochures in the world can't produce that," said Lynda Weatherman, head of the local economic development commission.
But high-tech work probably won't help tourism. Brenda Mulberry, a 49-year-old who in 1984 started a Merritt Island memorabilia and printing shop called Space Shirts, said she's nervous. Her sales jump 300 to 400% on launch days and wither without them, she said.
Moreover, her husband is a shuttle engineer and many of his colleagues have left or plan to, she said. They and other NASA and contract employees declined to be interviewed because they weren't authorized to talk with the news media.
There is still hope for a smaller tourist trade based on people around the world fascinated with the space program and its history at the Cape.
But businesses aren't counting on it.
Shanna Rhodes, director of sales and marketing at the Clarion Hotel in Titusville, a town that boasts the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, said they were trying to attract new customers, like people who take cruises out of nearby Port Canaveral.
"We are hoping that possibly there'll be another attraction coming for tourism," Rhodes said. "It's definitely going to hurt. I don't think anybody can say it's not."