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April 15 may reveal future of Constellation, Alliant Techsystems

Published: Wednesday, April 7 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

Rep. Rob Bishop speaks Tuesday to ATK employees, who want to know the future of the Constellation program.

Atk/Office of Congressman Rob Bishop

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BRIGHAM CITY — Employees at rocket-manufacturer Alliant Techsystems may have double reason to dread April 15 this year.

Not only is it tax day, but Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, told them Tuesday that President Barack Obama is expected to make an announcement that day in Florida regarding the future of the Constellation program. Trouble is, no one knows what that announcement will be.

Bishop has said that if Congress follows Obama's recent proposal to kill the program — designed to return America to the Moon and aim for Mars — it would shutter ATK's Promontory operations for rocket manufacturing and testing. And that would mean the loss of 2,000 Utah jobs. However, Obama has received significant opposition to his proposal from both Democrats and Republicans.

Bishop said he spoke with about 1,000 employees at an ATK hangar in a private meeting Tuesday to give them an update on developments related to Constellation.

"What they want to know more than anything is what is going to happen," he said. "I can't give a definitive answer. All I can tell them is that probably the brightest display of bipartisanship I have seen" is Republicans and Democrats who support space exploration collaborating to fight Obama's proposal.

"But it is still a large lift to basically ask a Democratic Congress to overturn an initiative of a Democratic president. But it's one of the things for the future of this country that we desperately need to do," Bishop said.

Bishop and allies have argued that the Obama administration would not only kill space exploration by canceling the program, but that the cancellation would also deeply wound the nation's ability to produce missiles needed for national defense by weakening companies that produce both products.

"The president will go down (to Florida) in April on the 15th and make some kind of announcement" about the future of Constellation after the pushback he has received in Congress, Bishop said. "I don't have any clue (what Obama will say), nor have I heard what to anticipate from that."

Bishop said it is clear "there was a significant pushback in Congress that the president's office was not anticipating," so Bishop is expecting some kind of modification to the proposal to kill the Constellation program.

Bishop is a native of Brigham City and was a longtime high school teacher there. ATK has long been Box Elder County's biggest employer, and he said it was difficult to talk to so many neighbors who are worried about their jobs.

"I was looking out there and saw former student and neighbors I have known a long time, and this becomes very personal for me. Some of the layoffs so far have been close friends and neighbors," he said.

"If this decision to scale back and change (Constellation) was based on good science, I could maybe accept it. But when I see it as more politics than science ... it makes me both sad and nervous and disgusted," Bishop said.

e-mail: lee@desnews.com

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