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ATK's future uncertain as Obama releases budget proposal



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By John HollenhorstSALT LAKE CITY -- The future of the space program, and of one of Utah's biggest employers, is suddenly up in the air and up for grabs.

President Barack Obama sent shock waves through the space industry Monday. His proposed budget cancels man's return to the moon -- at least for the immediate future -- and scrubs the Ares rocket.

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Some say it's a step forward for science because it may free up money for unmanned research missions and encourage new space-launch technology. But others say it's throwing away a $9 billion investment already spent by companies, including Utah's ATK.

ATK builds booster rockets for the NASA's space program, which will go extinct after five more missions.

The Ares rocket uses essentially the same boosters. It was test fired last fall as one step in developing a moon rocket, but now President Obama proposes to cancel the nation's return to the moon until better space technologies are developed.

Congressman Rob Bishop calls the president's proposal "dumb."

"This is going to put us behind the Russians and the Chinese in space exploration," Bishop says.

The president is not giving up on space, or even an eventual trip to the moon and Mars. He wants a major reboot of the space program to replace rocket technology that's nearly a half century old -- $6 billion saved could be used to encourage companies to develop commercial space vehicles, which NASA would pay to use.

Many jobs in Utah are potentially at stake. Bishop is normally skeptical of a big role for government, but he takes a different tack in this case.

**What is… ATK?**![](http://media.bonnint.net/slc/1482/148256/14825630.jpg)
ATK or Alliant Techsystems, Inc. was launched as an independent company in 1990, when Honeywell spun off its defense businesses to shareholders. The former Honeywell businesses had supplied defense products and systems to the U.S. and its allies for 50 years, including the first electronic autopilot that enabled B-17 aircraft to accomplish pinpoint bombing missions during World War II. ATK expanded into the aerospace market with the acquisitions of Hercules Aerospace Company in 1995 and Thiokol Propulsion in 2001, which transformed the company into the world's largest supplier of solid propellant rocket motors and a leading provider of high-performance composite structures. ATK Space Systems is headquartered in Magna with facilities in Brigham City and Clearfield.
"I'm sorry. There are some things the federal government does better. This is one of them, and if you're talking about jobs, this is a stupid time to cut 7,000 nationwide," Bishop says. [\[CLICK HERE to listen to KSL Newsradio's interview with Rep. Rob Bishop\]](http://real.ksl.com/video/slc/3/311/31124.mp3)Some scientists, though, see potential benefits if moon-project funds are shifted back to NASA's unmanned basic science missions.

"Some of those projects were scaled back or mothballed as a result of the need to redirect into the manned program," says Professor David Kieda, chairman of the University of Utah Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Still, politicians, even Democrats, from states with jobs at stake are pledging a spirited battle, or at least a healthy debate.

"The president proposes, and the Congress disposes," says Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida.

ATK says it's too early to speculate on job losses. Even if the president's budget goes through, it's hard to define ATK's role in coming years.

Still, there's no doubt this is a disappointing blow to many Utahns working on the Ares rocket.

E-mail: jhollenhorst@ksl.com

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