3/25/2006 HOUSTON (AP) -- Lockheed Martin plans to base the program office of the crew exploration vehicle in Houston, provided it wins the bid to build the next-generation space vehicle which will replace the space shuttles, officials said Friday. The Lockheed Martin program office could bring 1,200 engineering, software development and testing jobs to Houston's space industry, or about half of the labor force working on the development of the new vehicle.

That's about four times the number of jobs Lockheed Martin promised last month it would bring to its operations in Florida, where the company plans to assemble and test the crew exploration vehicle if its wins the bid. Lockheed Martin and a rival team of made up of Northrop Grumman and Boeing submitted bids to the build the crew exploration vehicle earlier this week. NASA plans to pick a winning bid in late summer.

"Houston's base of skilled aerospace workers, experienced technicians and just plain old hardworking Texans is unique and hard to beat," said John Karas, Lockheed Martin's vice president of space exploration. The three space shuttles are expected to be retired by 2010. NASA officials have said they want the crew exploration vehicle flying no later than 2014, but Karas said Lockheed Martin's plan calls for a crew flying the vehicle as early as 2011.

(Contributed by Associated Press and Houston Chronicle)