Controversy for new space tourism training program

Last month Space Florida and the Andrews Institute announced the creation of a new training program for potential space tourists. Project Odyssey, based at Andrews’ facilities near Pensacola as well as nearby military facilities, would provide medical screening and training for prospective spaceflight participants.

Brice HarrisNow, the Orlando Sentinel reports Saturday, the creation of the state-supported project may not have been on the up-and-up. According to the article, Brice Harris (pictured at right), an employee with Florida’s Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development (OTTED), a state agency that provided half of the $500,000 in state money to establish the project, was heavily involved in the development of the project. However, around the time OTTED signed off on the grant, Harris left the agency, only to reappear as the “Director of Defense and Aerospace Programs” at the Andrews Institute when the project was announced in December: an apparent violation of state ethics laws. The Sentinel reported that Florida Governor Charlie Crist has asked the state inspector general to investigate the matter.

A secondary issue mentioned in passing in the article: Project Odyssey is not the first time someone proposed to Space Florida that they get into the business of training spaceflight participants. Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, with a campus in Daytona Beach, proposed a similar concept in 2006, as did others later, but Steve Kohler, the president of Space Florida, was won over by the Andrews Institute’s focus on “wealthy, ‘high-value’ clientele”—the same type of people who would be space tourists—during a visit there in late 2007. When Space Florida approved the Project Odyssey proposal in the middle of last year, “Embry-Riddle immediately protested that Kohler had, in effect, stolen its proposal,” the Sentinel reported.

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