This seems like a perfect project for Flash. But you'll want someone with I'd say 5+ years of Flash design/development with lots of Actiosncript 3 knowledge and a good understanding of animation/tweening classes. Easy for a Pro, extremely difficult for an amateur.
Thanks for the feedback, bemdesign.
It looks like we will be seeing what we can do to get close to what I want without needing all the elements to behave like a layered AE project.
We'll see if anyone chimes in with some ideas.
What you wish to do can be done, but as you said -
Easy for a Pro, impossible for an amateur! (and quite possibly very difficult for many pros).
The other problem is that you would require the latest versions of all browsers, (and the adobe svg plug-in for IE < 9, which unfortunately I think has been withdrawn).
No matter which you choose, it will not be easy, but with flash you would be able to use much of the affter effects animations, and with svg many examples are now available to help, (some I have seen over the last few months even have similar effects to what you wish).
I'll forward all suggestions and ideas to my brother. He's trying to get caught up, so I appreciate having a few areas to point him to. I am drafting several levels of ambition with this project, so also good to know what the upper limits are.
We are having some luck with the starfield background. I think the other compenents, and their interactivity, will rise (or drop) according to what we can get to work for us. As we move forward I will probably have some more specific questions to problems that pop up.
Exporting in swf from AE and then building interactivity on top in Flash is probably the most productive way ahead. Being able to set Flash to scale automatically to full screen can also be useful for your sort of application.
What you want can probably be done without serious scripting, so the learning curve should be short and easy.
Probably best to post queries in the Flash forum for further detail in that area.
You might also want to look at Universe from http://www.diardsoftware.com/ to make background star fields easily.
We are heading towards Flash for the project. Luckily there are lots of resources for us on here and elsewhere. We are cautiously optimistic that we can build something that is simple, cool, and can serve our purposes. Then we can build from there as needed.
I appreciate the responses.