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

Diplomats Work to Extend Israeli-Palestinian Cease-Fire

US Secretary of State John Kerry, diplomats from France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Turkey and Qatar gathered in Paris Saturday to discuss crisis More

Photogallery US Defense Department Warns of Arms to Eastern Ukraine

‘Imminent’ delivery of Russian rocket launcher poses threat to civilians, US says More

Video Researchers: Africa Genetically Modified Crops Held Back by Scaremongering

GM crops offer best hope of increasing productivity and coping with climate change in Africa, according to co-author of Chatham House report 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.
Astronauts Train in Underwater Labi
X
George Putic
July 25, 2014 7:25 PM
In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid