It’s not good news, but it could be worse. On Monday, NASA announced that it anticipates shedding 3,000-4,000 jobs in two years once the Space Shuttle fleet is retired to make way for the Constellation Program. This is obviously terrible news for the staff, scientists and engineers and their families, but it is in improvement on previous estimates that up to 8,000 personnel could have lost their livelihoods. NASA Administrator Michael Griffin confirmed that about 3,000 jobs would be saved by filling positions in the new space program that will build spaceships to supply the International Space Station and eventually take man to the Moon and Mars. However, the early Shuttle retirement and late Constellation completion will increase the dependence on Russia to provide access to space…
In April, Nancy reported that NASA could cut 8,000 jobs mainly around the Kennedy Space Center where the Shuttle launches are administered. Although job losses were to be expected during the Shuttle-Constellation handover, this high figure will have come as a shock, not only to NASA’s workforce, but the whole space exploration community. Today’s announcement will come as a relief as although 6,000-7,000 Kennedy Space Center employees will be lost, around 3,000 will be relocated to the new exploration program, most likely based at Cape Canaveral.
This news has surfaced from a two-hour hearing at Port Canaveral, on the doorstep of the space center where officials, residents and protesters attended. About 1,000 people had gathered earlier in the day for an outdoor rally before the morning meeting.
“America – one small step, one giant voice”
“America the place for space”
– Slogans written on rally protester’s banners this morning.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, chairman of the space subcommittee and ex-astronaut who flew on Columbia in 1986, organized the hearing so concerned employees could have direct communication with NASA officials. Although the news was still tough to swallow, Nelson was upbeat about Griffin’s announcement. “I can’t say it’s good news, but it’s certainly news that’s a step in the right direction,” he said. The Senator also suggested that the forthcoming presidential elections may be fruitful when trying to find a change in policy for space exploration funding.
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For now, workers at the site will have to wait until 2009 until a clearer picture emerges. In 2010, NASA has been instructed by the government to wind up Shuttle operations so a new focus can be set on Moon launches.
Nelson voiced concerns that these cutbacks at NASA will have the effect of “generating jobs in Russia to accomplish the same mission,” as once the Shuttle is retired there will be a dependence on the Russian space agency for access to space. Griffin responded by saying the situation was “unseemly in the extreme” but ultimately unavoidable. More NASA funding would be required to bring the new Constellation program into operation to fill the 5-year gap (from 2010 to 2015) in US launches to the space station. Nelson has also voiced his concern that the area could be economically damaged during this time through job lay-offs, identical to the situation in the 1970’s when Apollo was decommissioned and the Shuttle made its first flight in 1981.
Sources: Link to Launch, Associated Press