Massive job cuts and an uncertain future for manned spaceflight at NASA loom as the last shuttle launch nears.
NASA prepares for the last launch of its space shuttle program with Atlantis'
liftoff, the space agency is at a crossroads and its employees face looming job
cuts as the program winds to a close.
NASA looks to private firms to help lead the next phase of manned space
exploration, Program Manager John Shannon told the Houston Chronicle that NASA
is down to 5,500 contractor employees and 1,200 civil servants working on the
shuttle, with a layoff on the horizon after the final launch. "It's tough to break
up a team that has performed so well for so long," he told the paper.
addition, after 37 years and 136 tanks constructed, Lockheed Martin announced
the decision to end production of the space shuttle external tank (ET) in
October 2010 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 a contract award on Sept. 5, 1973.
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
agency's inspector general, Paul Martin, has expressed concern over NASA's
ability to get astronauts to the International Space Station, though NASA has
contracted for seats aboard Russian Soyuz rockets to ferry people to the space
station until at least June 2016. In a 52-page report, Martin said the lack of
mandatory compliance with NASA's requirements presents some risk that
differences between partner designs and agency requirements could occur-a
critique of NASA's plan to encourage private corporations to aid in the design
and development of space-bound rockets.
last launch is currently scheduled for July 8. During the 12-day mission to the
ISS, Atlantis and its crew will deliver the Raffaello multipurpose logistics
module containing supplies and spare parts for the space station and its crew.
The mission will fly the RRM (Robotic Refueling Mission), an experiment
designed to demonstrate and test the tools, technologies and techniques needed
to robotically refuel satellites in space, even satellites not designed to be
serviced. The crew also will return an ammonia pump that recently failed on the
station. Engineers want to understand why the pump failed and improve designs
for future spacecraft.
at NASA Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pad 39A expect to complete work to close
out space shuttle Atlantis' aft section. Teams are not working on any issues that
could prevent the start of the launch countdown on Tuesday, July 5. At NASA's
Johnson Space Center, the STS-135 astronauts will perform a final ascent simulation
today before next week's launch. The crew is set to arrive at Kennedy's Shuttle
Landing Facility on Monday, July 4.