News / Science & Technology

As Space Shuttle Program Nears End, So Do Jobs

The space shuttle Endeavour lifts off from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., May 16, 2011
The space shuttle Endeavour lifts off from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., May 16, 2011

As crew members of the upcoming NASA space shuttle mission prepare for the final flight of the shuttle program, they say they are inspired by NASA's accomplishments, but also about the retirement of the shuttle fleet and lay-offs among the NASA community.  

To the uninitiated, it might sound like people speaking in code - or gibberish - but that is the sound of astronauts and mission controllers in Houston communicating during an ascent simulation ahead of next month's launch of the space shuttle Atlantis.

Astronaut Chris Ferguson, commander of the upcoming Atlantis mission, told reporters at the Johnson Space Center in Houston that while the astronauts are in space, their lives are in the hands of those on the ground.

"We count on those guys to get us through," said Ferguson.

Members of the Atlantis crew say that while their mission is at the forefront of their thoughts, the fact that this is the final shuttle flight is in the back of their minds.

It means saying good-bye to the shuttles - and good-bye to contract workers who have long worked on the shuttles at both Kennedy and Johnson Space Centers.

Again, Commander Ferguson:

"It's a pivotal time for them in their lives," he said. "They want to see the shuttle program through as safely and as successfully as the missions that preceded it, but at the same time, they have other factors on their minds as well."

Other factors, Ferguson said, such as what they are going to do when Atlantis returns to Earth and the shuttle program ends.

NASA relies heavily on contractors for its shuttle program.  According to figures provided by the space agency, as of last month, five out of every six people working on the shuttle program were contractors.  

Once this mission is over, NASA's 1,100 full-time employees dedicated to the shuttle program will be absorbed into other NASA divisions - but thousands of contractors are not guaranteed work at the U.S. space agency.

Much of the contract work has already dried up.  During the past five years, the number of contractors working on the shuttle program dropped from 14,000 to about 5,000.  That figure will decline even further once Atlantis returns.   

Astronaut Sandra Magnus, one of the four members of the Atlantis crew, said the program's end has not hit her completely, but instead "in bits and pieces."  She told reporters about a trip to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in April to look at the orbiter and review the hardware with the ground team.

"And the day after we had this test, about half the team we were working with was going to be let go," said Magnus. "That was their last day.  And that was really, for me, the first time it became, I guess I became emotional about it, because it was just so. . . It was very sad, but it was also very inspiring."

Magnus said she was struck by the dedication of the workforce.

"Even though they were leaving a job that they had for decades, they were still very excited about being a part of the space program, and they were very determined that they were going to give us Atlantis in the best shape it could be in," she said.

NASA is ending the 30-year-old shuttle program to focus on creating spacecraft that can go to asteroids or Mars.

Atlantis, the final shuttle to launch, is set to lift off July 8.

You May Like

Photogallery Strong Words Start, May End, S. African Xenophobic Attacks

President Jacob Zuma publicly condemned rise in attacks on foreign nationals but critics say leadership has been less than welcoming to foreign residents More

Video Family Waits to Hear Charges Against Reporter Jailed in Iran

Reports in Iran say Jason Rezaian has been charged with espionage, but brother tells VOA indictment has not been made public More

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Action to Stabilize Libya

Amnesty International says multinational concerted humanitarian effort must be enacted to address crisis; decrepit boats continue to bring thousands of new arrivals daily More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs