Already sparring over an aircraft carrier, Florida and Virginia have locked horns on another issue: human spaceflight.
NASA announced in July that it would order an environmental review of Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia's Eastern Shore. The study will consider current and potential future operations, such as manned missions.
The last detail caught the attention of aerospace leaders in the Sunshine State, home to every astronaut launch since Alan Shepard became the first in 1961.
Lynda Weatherman is president and CEO of the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast, which represents more than 200 businesses. It makes "no sense" for NASA to invest in infrastructure for manned missions from Wallops, she wrote in an Aug. 31 letter to NASA, which sought public comment on the study.
"The most pressing issue for the Florida workforce is the sense of betrayal that their tax dollars might be used in establishing a competing orbital human spaceflight capability in another state when they have so well and ably done the job here in Florida," she wrote.
Space Florida, a state-funded group that promotes Florida's aerospace industry, also sent a letter to NASA. President and CEO Frank DiBello wrote that he was concerned about NASA establishing "not only duplicative, but also competing" launch sites.
Both letters reference the retirement of NASA's shuttle program, which resulted in thousands of contractor layoffs in Florida this year.
The letters drew the ire of space enthusiasts in Virginia, where state lawmakers have passed business-friendly laws for the aerospace industry and spent millions of dollars upgrading the nearby Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport.
"Using an environmental study to advance Florida civil space business is, in my personal judgment, an ethically lacking business practice or, worse, a crude attempt to place a fix against launch market competition," J. Jack Kennedy, a member of the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority Board, wrote in an op-ed piece in the Oct. 10 Richmond Times-Dispatch.
A former Virginia General Assembly member, Kennedy said Florida officials are still upset that Northern Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp. chose Virginia instead of Florida three years ago to launch cargo to the International Space Station starting next year.
Wallops spokesman Keith Koehler said there are no immediate plans to launch people from the facility, which was established in 1945 by NASA's predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics.
The environmental study will look at all possible missions, an approach NASA hopes will save it money in the future, Koehler said. NASA will open the study to public comment again next summer after a draft is released. The study is expected to cost $700,000 and be complete by 2013.
The tussle comes as leaders from both states bicker over the Navy's plan to move one of the five aircraft carriers based at Naval Station Norfolk to Mayport, Fla., to replace the USS John F. Kennedy aircraft carrier, which was decommissioned in 2007.
Boosters say separating the East Coast carriers, which the Navy does on the West Coast, will enhance national security. Opponents, especially Virginia's congressional delegation, argue the move will cost too much money.
At stake are thousands of jobs and nearly $1 billion in annual economic activity that a carrier strike group contributes to the region, local economists say.
NASA's plan to commercialize certain space launches and a growing interest in space tourism could contribute similar dollars in Virginia and Maryland, boosters say. Virginia's aerospace industry, which includes NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton and dozens of private companies, contributes $7.6 billion in annual economic activity, according to a state-funded report issued last year.
With a $2 billion contract to supply the space station, Orbital is among the biggest players in Virginia. It was among dozens of companies vying to develop a rocket that would carry astronauts into low Earth orbit, as the shuttle did.
But NASA chose other companies for the project, none with significant ties to Virginia. Also, NASA announced last month it would build a new deep space rocket, expected to cost at least $18 billion through 2017, that would be launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Despite those plans, Florida officials seem intent on protecting their turf. Their worries might be stoked by U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., who chairs the Senate subcommittee in charge of NASA's funding. Maryland is home to NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, which operates Wallops.