ABC News' Michael Falcone (@michaelpfalcone) reports:
As America bids farewell to the space shuttle era on Thursday, likely presidential candidate Rick Perry appears none too pleased with the Obama administration, accusing the president of “leaving American astronauts with no alternative but to hitchhike into space.”
In a sharply worded statement issued by the governor of Texas — the state is home to the Johnson Space Center — Perry charges that the Obama Administration “continues to lead federal agencies and programs astray, this time forcing NASA away from its original purpose of space exploration, and ignoring its groundbreaking past and enormous future potential.”
Thursday marked the final flight of the space shuttle as the Shuttle Atlantis landed before dawn at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Shuttles flew 135 flights over the last three decades. Americans will still live on the International Space Station, but they will have to use Russian craft and private companies for transportation to and from space.
The International Space Station is expected to remain in use until 2020.
Near the end of the statement from Perry’s office is a note that the Johnson Space Center employs 3,000 people and draws in the business of about 50 outside companies and 12,000 contract positions. “An estimated 4,000 contract positions will be lost due to the end of the shuttle program," according to the statement.
Perry, who appears to be laying the groundwork to enter the 2012 presidential race, did not mention President George W. Bush's role in the end of the space shuttle era. In 2004 at a speech at NASA headquarters, Bush laid out what the White House called his "New Vision For Space Exploration," which called for the retirement of the space shuttle.
Back then, Bush called for the space shuttle to be taken out of service in 2010.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked about the job losses accompanying the end of the shuttle program at his regular press briefing on Thursday. Here's the exchange:
Q: Really quickly, back on the space shuttle program, of course, the program essentially ends today, and with it thousands of people — NASA employees, contractors — will be out of work. What’s the President’s message, Jay, to those folks down on Florida, Texas and Alabama who are going to be out of work now with the space shuttle program ending and very confused as to why the shuttle program is ending without any replacement for the shuttle there to replace it?
CARNEY: Well, as you know, the President has laid out an ambitious vision for human space flight that will take American astronauts beyond where we’ve ever been before with the ultimate goal being a human mission to Mars. The President’s vision, negotiated with bipartisan support from Congress, allows NASA to focus its resources on exploration and innovation while leveraging private sector resources to continue taking Americans to the International Space Station in low-Earth orbit, whose mission has been extended until at least 2020.