Shuttle Slowdown: NASA Contractor Lays Off Nearly 900 Workers
CAPE CANAVERAL ? They knew for months that this day was coming.
But for many of the United Space Alliance shuttle workers leaving a company building in Cape Canaveral on Oct. 1, the realization that they were out of work finally sunk in with a single task that took only a few seconds -- handing over their company and NASA security badges.
It was the last thing they did before walking out the door.
In all, 877 workers from United Space Alliance and about 200 from other local shuttle contractors were laid off, effective Oct. 1. It was the biggest wave of layoffs so far, in advance of the planned 2011 end of the space shuttle program. In all, the shuttle fleet's retirement will cost the county about 8,000 space industry jobs.
Among these affected by the Oct. 1 layoffs was Alex Gorichky of Merritt Island, part of a family that has more than 200 combined years of service in the space program, going back to his grandparents' work on the Apollo moon missions.
"The space program fed me and put clothes on my back since I was an infant," said Gorichky, 31, who worked for nearly six years at USA, initially packing cargo for transport to the International Space Station, and later refurbishing the reusable solid rocket boosters.
Aware of the history of the start and end of various space programs, Gorichky knew from his first day at USA that his job eventually would be threatened when the shuttle program ended. To prepare, he established his own light-tackle fishing charter business, called Local Lines Guide Service.
Others, though, were hoping that something would happen to reverse the layoff notices issued two months ago.
"You kind of live in denial," said Cyndy Knight, 54, of Cape Canaveral, who worked in a number of capacities during her 10 years at USA.
Psychologists and human resources experts say it would be normal for the laid-off shuttle employees to go through a grieving process similar to the death of a loved one, with stages leading from denial to acceptance.
But they said the workers must try to remain positive.
"There will be a tomorrow, like it or not," said Dr. Wayne Stein, a Palm Bay psychologist who teaches at Brevard Community College and is leading college workshops for shuttle workers on coping with life changes. "What you choose to do with that tomorrow is your wish."
Stein said the former shuttle workers have one advantage over many people losing jobs: pride in accomplishments that are visible to the entire community.
"Your pride is taking a major hit," he said of the layoff experience. "But they've already established themselves with a place in history with what they've accomplished."
Robert Newland, whose Longwood-based firm works with companies to help laid-off employees, concurred.
"It sounds kind of cheesy, but attitude matters a lot when you get unemployed," he said.
Approaching a job search in a methodical and professional manner and taking advantages of services from work force and government agencies usually produces the best chance to quickly find new employment, Newland said.
"It becomes a moment for a lot of reflection for a lot of people, and you make some very tough choices," Newland said.
Patricia Stratton, associate program manager of ground operations at USA, said that while Friday was an emotional and difficult day, "we're trying to celebrate our accomplishments. We've made a huge contribution to the space program."
Among the youngest workers being laid off Friday was 20-year-old Kyle Kosiba of Rockledge, who was part of the crew on the Freedom Star, the ship responsible for retrieving spent solid rocket boosters from the Atlantic Ocean after a shuttle launch.
"It was the coolest job for me," said Kosiba, who worked on the ship for a year and a half. "Working for the space program is a dream come true. There is an overwhelming sense of pride."
Kosiba plans to pursue work on other ships, possible on one used to retrieve test torpedoes.
Longtime USA workers Shouna Reynolds of Titusville and Susan Roney of Cape Canaveral drove over together for what company officials called "outprocessing," and recalled afterward the good times they had working for the shuttle program over the years in various capacities.
"It was awesome," said Reynolds, 50, a 25-year employee of USA and a predecessor contractor. "It was probably the most gratifying job I ever had."
Both will be looking for new jobs now, and Roney, 58, has taken part-time work at Publix for the time being.
For Gorichky, Friday could have been even worse.
His wife also was among those on the layoff list from United Space Alliance. But she was able to secure a new space-related job, working in range safety, in conjunction with the 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base.
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