As Lockheed closes the shuttle external tank plant, the Senate passes a bill that will end NASA's Constellation program.
After 37 years and 136 tanks constructed, Lockheed Martin announced
the decision to end production of the space shuttle external tank at
the NASA Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. The final tank
arrived at Kennedy Space Center on Sept. 27, ending a production
program that began with contract award on Sept. 5, 1973. Two
shuttle launches remain in the program--on Nov. 1 and
Feb. 26, 2011 next year.
"The space shuttle has provided a pathway for America's leadership in
space exploration," said Manny Zulueta, Lockheed Martin vice president
and Michould site executive. "Working alongside NASA on the external
tank has been a gratifying and historic experience for our employees."
With the end of ET production, Lockheed announced workforce reductions
have been taking place as "discrete elements" of work have concluded.
On Jan. 1, 2010, Lockheed employed 1,438 employees at the Michoud
Assembly Facility. The current workforce stands at approximately 600,
according to a company release. "The majority of that number includes
employees working on the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle program and
those who have launch and landing responsibility for the final space shuttle launches," a company statement explained.
In 1979, the company rolled out the first ET, termed the "Heavyweight"
version, which weighed in at 76,000 pounds. The first Lightweight Tank,
the ET-8, weighing in at a leaner 66,000 pounds, followed three years
later. In June 1998, the company launched a shuttle sporting the ET-96,
the first Super Lightweight Tank, weighing 58,500 pounds.
The space agency will also be forced to cancel its ambitious
"Constellation" program in the wake of a bill passed by the Senate this
week. The bill, which will be sent to President Obama to sign,
authorizes $58 billion to NASA over the next three years. The NASA
authorization bill, S. 3729, also allows the space agency to fly one
more shuttle mission than the last two currently planned, and directs
NASA to begin work on a heavy-lift rocket that could launch an
expedition to an asteroid or to Mars.
NASA also awarded a contract to Hamilton Sundstrand Space Systems
International of Houston for spacesuit support used on the space
shuttle and the International Space Station. The cost-plus-award-fee
contract, known as the Extravehicular Space Operations Contract, has a
maximum value of $728.9 million. Under the contract, Hamilton
Sundstrand and its subcontractors will perform engineering management
for hardware systems used in spacewalks, supporting enhancements,
ensuring flight and spacewalk readiness, providing safety and mission
assurance, meeting flight milestones and achieving mission goals.
The space agency exercised the base contract, valued at $315.5 million,
for work performed Oct. 1, 2010, through Sept. 30, 2015, and a one-year
option of $8.6 million specifically for shuttle mission support
beginning Oct. 1, 2010. In all, there are two, one-year options for
space shuttle extravehicular activity support Oct. 1, 2010, through
Sept. 30, 2012. There are five, one-year options available for space
station work Oct. 1, 2015, through Sept. 30, 2020. "This action also
includes an indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity portion that is
not to exceed $90 million and a $140,000 fixed-price, 30-day phase-in
period," a NASA release said.
Nathan Eddy is Associate Editor, Midmarket, at eWEEK.com. Before joining eWEEK.com, Nate was a writer with ChannelWeb and he served as an editor at FierceMarkets. He is a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.