Shuttle Slowdown: NASA Contractor Lays Off Nearly 900 Workers

NASA’s space shuttle Discovery will have flown 39 outer space missions by the end of its career, that started in 1984.
By the end of its career, space shuttle Discovery will have flown 39 space missions since its first flight in 1984. Over that time, countless dedicated engineers and technicians serviced the spacecraft. Here, Discovery's current team walks the shuttle out to the Vehicle Assembly Building to meet its fuel tank and rocket boosters on Sept. 9, 2010.
(Image: © NASA)

CAPECANAVERAL ? They knew for months that this day was coming.

But for manyof the United Space Alliance shuttle workers leaving a company buildingin CapeCanaveral on Oct. 1, the realization that they were out of work finallysunk inwith a single task that took only a few seconds -- handing over theircompanyand NASA security badges.

It was thelast thing they did before walking out the door.

In all, 877workers from United Space Alliance and about 200 from other local shuttlecontractors were laid off, effective Oct. 1. It was thebiggest wave oflayoffs so far, in advance of the planned 2011 end of the space shuttleprogram. In all, the shuttle fleet's retirement will cost the countyabout8,000 space industry jobs.

Among these affectedby the Oct. 1 layoffs was Alex Gorichky of Merritt Island,part of a familythat has more than 200 combined years of service in the space program,goingback to his grandparents' work on the Apollo moon missions.

"Thespace 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, initiallypackingcargo for transport to the International Space Station, and laterrefurbishingthe reusable solid rocket boosters.

Aware of thehistory of the start and end of various space programs, Gorichky knewfrom hisfirst day at USA that his job eventually would be threatened when theshuttleprogram ended. To prepare, he established his own light-tackle fishingcharterbusiness, called Local Lines Guide Service.

Others,though, were hoping that something would happen to reversethe layoff notices issued two months ago.

"Youkind of live in denial," said Cyndy Knight, 54, of Cape Canaveral, whoworked in a number of capacities during her 10 years at USA.

Grievingprocess

Psychologistsand human resources experts say it would be normal for the laid-offshuttleemployees to go through a grieving process similar to the death of aloved one,with stages leading from denial to acceptance.

But theysaid the workers must try to remain positive.

"Therewill be a tomorrow, like it or not," said Dr. Wayne Stein, a Palm Baypsychologist who teaches at Brevard Community College and is leadingcollege workshopsfor shuttle workers on coping with life changes. "What youchoose todo with that tomorrow is your wish."

Stein saidthe former shuttle workers have one advantage over many people losingjobs:pride in accomplishments that are visible to the entire community.

"Yourpride is taking a major hit," he said of the layoff experience. "Butthey've already established themselves with a place in history withwhatthey've accomplished."

RobertNewland, whose Longwood-based firm works with companies to helplaid-offemployees, concurred.

"Itsounds kind of cheesy, but attitude matters a lot when you getunemployed," he said.

Approachinga job search in a methodical and professional manner and takingadvantages ofservices from work force and government agencies usually produces thebestchance to quickly find new employment, Newland said.

"Itbecomes a moment for a lot of reflection for a lot of people, and youmake somevery tough choices," Newland said.

'Coolestjob'

PatriciaStratton, associate program manager of ground operations at USA, saidthatwhile Friday was an emotional and difficult day, "we're trying tocelebrate our accomplishments. We've made a huge contributiontothe space program."

Among theyoungestworkers being laid off Friday was 20-year-old Kyle Kosiba of Rockledge,who waspart of the crew on the Freedom Star, the ship responsible forretrieving spentsolid rocket boosters from the Atlantic Ocean after a shuttle launch.

"It wasthe coolest job for me," said Kosiba, who worked on the ship for a yearand a half. "Working for the space program is a dream come true. Thereisan overwhelming sense of pride."

Kosiba plansto pursue work on other ships, possible on one used to retrieve testtorpedoes.

Longtime USAworkers Shouna Reynolds of Titusville and Susan Roney of Cape Canaveraldroveover together for what company officials called "outprocessing," andrecalled afterward the good times they had working for the shuttleprogramover the years in various capacities.

"It wasawesome," said Reynolds, 50, a 25-year employee of USA and apredecessorcontractor. "It was probably the most gratifying job I ever had."

Both will belooking for new jobs now, and Roney, 58, has taken part-time work atPublix forthe time being.

ForGorichky, Friday could have been even worse.

His wifealso was among those on the layoff list from United Space Alliance. Butshe wasable to secure a new space-related job, working in range safety, inconjunctionwith the 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base.

 Publishedunder license from FLORIDA TODAY. Copyright ? 2010 FLORIDA TODAY. Noportion ofthis material may be reproduced in any way without the written consentof FLORIDATODAY.

Have a news tip, correction or comment? Let us know at community@space.com.