Despite frantic maneuvering in Congress by Florida lawmakers, the scuttling of the space shuttle program began in earnest May 1 with NASA announcing the first layoffs for the program scheduled to end in 2010. The first cuts were felt by manufacturing members of the space shuttle team.
“[May 1], we have a layoff of about 160 people on the team,” Space Shuttle Program Manager John Shannon told reporters. “Between [May 1] and the end of September, we will reduce the program by about 900 people. We have delivered the last pieces of hardware that those team members produce and we don’t keep them on the roles. And that is in order to get our budget down to the marks and the assumptions we made early on.”
NASA’s shuttle program has approximately 1,600 people on its payroll in addition to 13,800 contractors. The shuttle shutdown will involve layoffs, moving personnel to other projects and attrition.
The layoffs began even as Congress approved April 29 a budget provision to keep the shuttle flying until 2011, although the White House and NASA have stuck to 2010 as the end of the program. The agreement in Congress must still pass a number of hurdles before it would actually become reality.
Former President Bush ordered the 2010 retirement of the shuttle fleet in the aftermath of the 2003 Columbia disaster. The deadline was necessary to meet the schedule of the Constellation program that aims to develop a shuttle replacement and return astronauts to the moon. The first scheduled manned Constellation launch is scheduled for 2015.
NASA, meanwhile, is racing to complete its remaining nine missions. Eight of the missions are to complete construction of the International Space Station, while the ninth is a scheduled May 11 launch to the Hubble Space Telescope. In the interim between the end of the shuttle program and the first launch of the Constellation program, a Russian Soyuz spacecraft will be used to shuttle supplies and astronauts to the ISS.