For Huntsville, Ala., the ink NASA put on the Ares 1 upper-stage production contract in August
was icing on an already
generous slab of cake.
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville is leading the U.S. space agency’s efforts to design and develop the new human-rated launcher and its proposed cargo-carrying
follow on, the heavy-lift Ares 5. The work is expected to provide thousands of jobs in
the region in the years ahead and continue a legacy of rocket building that dates back to Wernher von Braun and the Saturn 5.
But as important as the Ares work is to Huntsville’s longstanding identity as
Marshall’s roughly 2,600 civil-servant jobs and 5,800 contractor positions are dwarfed by those of its host
the U.S. Army’s Redstone Arsenal. Home to the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command, Army Aviation and Missile Command, and major components of the Defense Intelligence Agency and Missile Defense Agency, Redstone is Huntsville’s largest employer, providing some 14,600 government jobs and thousands
more contractor positions, according to the Huntsville Chamber of Commerce.
“Ares comes as we are seeing tremendous activity on the military side of the house,” Mike Ward, the chamber’s vice president of government affairs, said in a recent interview.
Ward said the Army’s presence is expected to grow when Army Materiel Command relocates to Redstone from Northern Virginia’s Fort Belvoir around 2010. The move, part of the 2005 military base closure and realignment process that is expected to bring 5,000 jobs to Huntsville from the Washington area,
also will bring the state of Alabama its first four-star general slot, according to Ward.
And while the Army Space and Missile Defense Command long has had the bulk of its personnel in Huntsville, its commanding general until recently was headquartered
in leased office space near the Pentagon. In June, Army Lt. Gen. Kevin T. Campbell formally planted his flag in Huntsville. Ward said Campbell’s move brings added visibility to the
Campbell said in an Aug. 15 interview that having the majority of the Space and Missile Defense Command staff in Huntsville is a step forward for the command, and that additional synergy would come from having most of the Missile Defense Agency’s staff co-located at Redstone.
“I really don’t like separate headquarters, so this was a giant leap forward for me, to have the [research and development] staff together here,”
Campbell said. “It’s a money saver – it saves a lot of money and time from trips to D.C.”
The U.S. Army and NASA are helping fuel an economic expansion that is bringing people to Huntsville from far and wide.
For example, Northrop Grumman is planning to do more of its work on the Kinetic Energy Interceptor program in Huntsville. And a number of companies, including Boulder, Colo.-based Ball Aerospace and Technologies have expanded their Huntsville presence to better position themselves for Ares-related work.
“About 50 percent or better of our economic pie is aerospace and defense,” said Ethan Hadley, the Huntsville chamber’s vice president of economic development. “We are basically a who’s who in national aerospace and defense companies with a good concentration of foreign-based [companies] as well.”
Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, SAIC, Teledyne Brown Engineering, and other aerospace contractors together provide employment for thousands of Huntsville-area residents.
Between 2000 and 2006, according to Hadley, the Huntsville metropolitan area’s population grew by 10 percent – more than double the growth rate
any other community in the area.
“Because of the salary levels people are willing to travel a lot further than they would for a blue collar job,” Hadley said.
Huntsville’s largest manufacturing employer is Chicago-based Boeing Co., which employs nearly 3,000 people in the area. In addition to its NASA and military work, Boeing also has 100 or so engineers in Huntsville working on the 787 Dreamliner passenger aircraft, according to Hadley.
a $514 million NASA contract to produce the upper stages for the Ares 1 rocket Aug. 28, Boeing plans to add
up to several hundred new positions
in Huntsville in the years ahead. Ed Meme, a spokesman for Houston-based Boeing Exploration Systems, said that company-wide, Boeing currently has 350 posted job openings in Huntsville across its NASA and military contracts.
Boeing’s Ares upper-stage work force will join
the nearly 1,500 civil servants and contractors already working on Ares at Marshall, according to NASA spokeswoman Kim Newton.
Marshall also has roles on the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle that will launch atop Ares 1 as well as the
the agency intends to build to carry astronauts back to the Moon.
Jeremy Singer contributed to this story from Huntsville.