NASA began the first round of job layoffs today as the space agency prepares to retire its fleet of space shuttles. 160 people were notified today their jobs were being cut, the first of 900 jobs that will evaporate in the next five months. The first wave of layoffs will affect Lockheed Martin and ATK Thiokol, contractors that support the shuttle program building fuel tanks and rocket boosters in Louisiana and Utah. The shuttle program employs about 1,600 NASA civil servants across the space agency and 13,800 contractors around the country. Once the shuttle stops flying, as many as 6,500 jobs could be cut at the Kennedy Space Center alone.
NASA announced the first round of layoffs at a briefing Thursday, where they also announced the launch date for the Hubble Telescope repair mission as May 11, a day earlier than previously planned. Making the two divergent announcements at the same news conference was bittersweet.
Officials at the briefing stressed that without an infusion of money in 2010 — for which a detailed budget is expected to be released next week — they had no choice but to continue the gradual shutdown of shuttle operations.
Shuttle program manager John Shannon said several hundred jobs will be lost to attrition and some employees will transfer to other contractors or projects. The rest will be layoffs.
“Only if we were directed to fly additional missions would we halt that activity,” Shannon said.
Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for space operations, said that if $2.5 billion proposed recently by Congress budget planners materialized, it could allow a few shuttles to fly past the 2010 retirement date if some shuttle flights got delayed and NASA were unable to complete the construction of the international space station.
He added that, although the shuttle program’s plans were clear, it was less certain how quickly jobs would ramp up for the shuttle’s replacement, the Ares I rocket and Orion capsule.
The first launch of Ares I and Orion is planned for March 2015, but that date is not certain.
Source: Orlando Sentinel