NASA Chief Warns of Possible Job Cuts After Shuttle Retires

Boeing to Build Upper Stage of NASA's Ares I Rocket
An artist's rendition of Ares I being stacked in the vehicle assembly building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Houston-based Boeing won NASA's contract to built the rocket's upper stage, which appears in orange below the conical Orion crew capsule. (Image credit: NASA.)

WASHINGTON —Several thousand NASA contractors in Florida and Louisiana could be out of workonce the space shuttle flies its last mission in 2010, the head of the agency told a Senate panel Feb. 27.

NASAAdministrator Mike Griffin said Florida's Kennedy Space Center stands to lose"several thousand" contractor jobs following the space shuttle'sretirement from service. While some of those jobs will return as NASA beginsflying the spaceshuttle's successor — the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle and the Ares 1rocket — the new system, by design, is expected to require fewer people tooperate than the labor-intensive space shuttle.

Orion andAres are not expected to begin operations until early 2015, although flighttests out of the Kennedy could begin a fewyears earlier.

The spaceshuttle program employs roughly 14,000 people at Kennedy Space Center inFlorida. Griffin said Kennedy would need to take on new roles andresponsibilities beyond launch operations if it wants to maintain it currentworkforce levels post-shuttle.

NASA'sMichoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans also is expected to be hard hit by theshuttle's looming retirement. The contractor-operated facility producesexternal fuel tanks for the shuttle. As tank work winds down in the years justahead, NASA employment "will drop from about 1,900 today to under 600,somewhere down around 500 for a time before coming back up," Griffin toldthe Senate Commerce space and aeronautics and related sciences subcommitteeduring a hearing on NASA's 2009budget request.

NASA andits contractors plan to use Michoud to produce parts of Orion and Ares, butthat production activity is expected to remain fairly limited until the newsystem begins making regular flights.

Griffin'snumbers did not sit well with Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla) and David Vitter(R-La.), the two lawmakers presiding over the hearing. Nelson is thesubcommittee's chairman and Vitter is the subcommittee's ranking Republican.

Nelsonasked Griffin whether Johnson Space Center in Houston and Marshall Space FlightCenter in Huntsville also stand to lose jobs once the shuttle retires.

"Willother centers feel the pain? How about Johnson? How about Marshall?"Nelson asked.

"Broadlyspeaking I don't think we are going to have significant overall workforcereductions at [Johnson Space Center] or Marshall," Griffin said.

Johnson isNASA's lead center for the Constellation Program, which encompasses Orion, Aresand the other systems needed to sendastronauts to the Moon. Marshall, meanwhile, has lead responsibility fordesigning Ares.


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Editor-in-Chief, SpaceNews

Brian Berger is the Editor-in-Chief of SpaceNews, a bi-weekly space industry news magazine, and He joined SpaceNews covering NASA in 1998 and was named Senior Staff Writer in 2004 before becoming Deputy Editor in 2008. Brian's reporting on NASA's 2003 Columbia space shuttle accident and received the Communications Award from the National Space Club Huntsville Chapter in 2019. Brian received a bachelor's degree in magazine production and editing from Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.