NBC News space analyst
updated 7/2/2010 12:05:21 PM ET 2010-07-02T16:05:21

The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee is proposing to save as many as 7,500 jobs of those who work on NASA's launch team by funding an additional space shuttle supply flight to the International Space Station a year from now. That mission would be followed immediately with the building of a heavy-lift rocket and spacecraft to replace the space shuttle.

The committee's plan, due to be submitted to President Barack Obama July 15, could save 7,500 skilled jobs alone here at the shuttle's launch site, and thousands more at other space centers and contractors. It would also significantly shorten the time span the United States will need to be dependent on Russia to fly its astronauts to the space station.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., told NBC News that NASA is on board with the plan that will, while the new heavy-lift rocket and spacecraft are being built, clear the way for commercial rockets to supply the space station.

If the Senate plan is adopted, the president's goal of eventually reaching Mars will come much earlier. Astronauts will first fly "flexible" missions to asteroids and to the lunar and solar Lagrange points before heading for the Red Planet.

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