Fifty years after John Glenn ushered in an era of American supremacy in space by orbiting the Earth, Nasa is fishing for tenants to rent disused facilities at its Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.
The admission by Nasa that it has hung a "for rent" sign over much of what it owns at the storied launch campus on Cape Canaveral is only the latest symbol of the vanishing of its glory days made most obvious by the mothballing of its shuttle fleet last year. Today it must beg for seats on the Russian Soyuz to put astronauts aloft. Also celebrating its 50th anniversary, the Space Centre now has only 7,500 Nasa employees, compared to the 18,000 at its peak. Facilities now being offered for rent include its 457-metre (15,000ft) runway, one of its two launch pads, the giant caterpillar crawler that was used to move the shuttles back and forth, numerous hangars and the iconic and extremely large Vehicle Assembly Building with the Nasa badge on its side.
"I have a lot of facilities that we, Nasa, no longer need," Robert Cabana, Kennedy's director told the Washington Post. "I don't have the money to maintain them, I don't have the money to tear them down." Some from outside the Nasa fold have already arrived at Canaveral, including Lockheed Martin, which has taken over one building to develop the Orion space capsule that later this decade should be ready to carry astronauts into deep space. Boeing plans to lease one of the shuttle hangers to build another capsule to serve the International Space Station. Nasa is meanwhile focused on its Space Launch System, a new rocket set for unveiling in 2017.
But hopes that a flurry of private companies such as SpaceX would quickly fill some of the void may have been overstated not least because federal subsidies have been slashed.
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