NASA begins layoffs

May 1, 2009 4:31:00 PM PDT
NASA is taking more steps in preparing for the retirement of the space shuttle. For hundreds of NASA employees, it means their jobs will be lost. On Friday, the space agency began its first round of layoffs.[SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

The jobs eliminated are not here at Johnson Space Center, but they're at other NASA facilities in Florida, Utah and Louisiana. They're mostly manufacturing jobs being phased out as the shuttle program begins to come to an end in 2010.

With the space shuttle's days numbered, those who build its giant external fuel tanks and solid rocket boosters are some of the first to be let go.

"We'll have to let those production people go and at some point they may come back on when we get into building the moon rocket, the Ares Five moon rocket in a few years," said Wayne Hale of NASA.

NASA administrators say 160 jobs were eliminated Friday and that about 900 will be cut within the next five months.

According to a study NASA compiled for congress several months ago, none of those reductions will occur at the Johnson Space Center yet. However, that same study concludes that JSC will see a change in the size of the workforce with a loss of jobs between fiscal year 2008 and 2013. Those job cuts are expected to be between 100 and 2,400 jobs.

"I expect any job losses in the aerospace sector in Houston would be temporary and just a matter of time while people are moving from one contract to another," said Hale.

NASA administrators insist many jobs will be transitioned to development and production of its new lunar vehicles, the Ares rocket and the Orion capsule. How many jobs are retained depends much on federal funding, which is now uncertain.

People living near JSC say the commitment to space now needs to be as great as ever.

"That would be a failure I think, if we don't fund that," said Dave Wrbas.

Administrators say figuratively now that they actually have more work here right now than they know what to do with, trying to plan for the new vehicle while still flying the shuttle.

The space shuttle program has just nine more flights before it will be retired. The final flight is scheduled for May 31, 2010, and is expected to carry spare parts for the International Space Station.

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