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Congressman questions whether NASA has let go of enough unused property

NASA is in the midst of a huge yard sale at Kennedy Space Center, peddling unused hangars, assembly buildings, launch complexes and even a landing strip to commercial space companies.

But at the request of Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.), Congress soon may be asking whether the space agency is cleaning out the closets thoroughly enough.

NASA is trying to save millions of dollars it spends maintaining rocket-launch properties it no longer needs because of the space shuttle’s retirement while hoping to fuel the emerging commercial space industry at Cape Canaveral.

Mica said he will call for a congressional hearing early next year to explore NASA’s options for land or buildings that might no longer be needed among the 140,000 acres and scores of facilities at the space center.

Mica has not suggested that NASA is hoarding assets. But he said he wants to have a look as part of his ongoing crusade to spotlight federal property that’s wasted or underused.

At stake is how extensively the space center is transformed into a multiuser spaceport, with the Air Force, NASA and commercial space companies working side by side to develop and launch or fly whatever they need.

Thomas O. Engler, who helps oversees that change as deputy director of the space center’s planning and development, said the agency has received plenty of interest from private companies. Some specialized facilities, such as a parachute-repacking plant, were relatively easy to pitch to specific businesses. Other prospects, such as parts of the huge, iconic Vehicle Assembly Building, have also drawn interest, but he said NASA is being careful about how to package such opportunities.

“It takes a little bit of time, but we are moving forward,” Engler said.

Leaving the facilities unused is not without cost. A report issued by NASA’s inspector general in February estimated that the agency is spending more than $1.3 million a year to maintain the shuttle landing strip and that as many as seven launch-related facilities are underutilized or may not be needed anymore, costing $29 million a year.

Mica said he wants a hearing on the space center’s properties before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in February.

“We have evolved the space program, but we haven’t evolved the property and assets,” Mica said in an interview this week. “Times change, and our needs for assets evolve.”

NASA already has put a few facilities in private hands, while others have been mothballed or demolished to reduce maintenance costs.

— McClatchy-Tribune

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