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Space Day 2015 celebrates aerospace today at Capitol

“There’s a lot of synergy among Pensacola, Tampa, Jacksonville and the Space Coast (Brevard County) (on this),” Sen. Thad Altman said.

“It’s why we call it Space Day: We don’t call it Brevard day.”

Altman was driving to the state Capitol from the Space Coast on Monday while discussing the aerospace industry and the importance of space exploration in the creation of modern Florida.

Wednesday is Space Day at the Capitol. That’s when the aerospace industry parachutes in and tells lawmakers about its importance to Florida and some things it’s doing to explore the final frontier, to paraphrase Capt. James T. Kirk.

“It is our identity. It is who we are as a community. It’s why Brevard is one of the top-10 innovation centers of the country,” Altman said, warming up to the subject.

The aerospace industry is a $19.2 billion industry in Florida employing more than 141,000 people. An aerospace company is operating in every county in the state employing anywhere from four people (Liberty) to as many as 22,000 (Brevard).

Florida once had space mostly to itself. There were facilities in Houston and California, but Florida was the focus of the nation with the moon and space shuttle programs. Nowadays, space is a growing industry. Commercial launch facilities are scattered across the nation, in Virginia, New Mexico and Colorado, and Georgia is exploring the possibilities.

The camaraderie, or synergy as Altman referred to it, within the industry is rooted in Florida’s numerous military bases and science. Earlier this month, The Guardian newspaper ranked Florida’s aerospace industry among its top-10 investing-in-America tips, mentioning the state’s “good” incentive structure “targeted toward high-tech, science-intensive companies.”

This week in Tallahassee, former space shuttle astronaut Mike McCulley, commander on the mission to deploy the Galileo spacecraft to Jupiter, will lead industry leaders in lobbying Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature to develop the best strategy to fend off competition from other states and countries for the commercial space business.

“This transition in the space business arena impacts all of Florida,” said former astronaut Andy Allen, who is chairing Space Day 2015. “Florida has almost 500 aerospace companies employing over 30,000 high-tech professionals, it has the third largest space industry in the nation.”

On the group’s lobbying agenda is a $10 million appropriation for Space Florida business development and another $1.5 million to promote space tourism.

Altman is working to get money for the industry from Washington. He lobbied the Senate Education Committee to include money to create public/private partnerships enabling the universities to draw down NASA research money to beef up the universities’ research capabilities.

Altman does not seem all that concerned about the interest of other states to compete with Florida for commercial launches.

“We can have launches in Jacksonville and the Kennedy Space Center, and soon we’re going to have the capability in Homestead. No one else will have three launch centers separated by geography but working together,” Altman said. “No one.”

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