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

    Video Somali, AU Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    Somalia’s Western backers frustrated over country’s slow progress in establishing its armed forces to bring security after 25 years of chaos

    Israel Makes Push for Gaza Strip Recovery

    After years of economic blockade and attempts to disable Hamas, Israeli leaders eventually realized that Hamas’ downfall could lead to chaos or the rise of a more radical Jihadist group

    Slump in Chinese Tourists Hitting Hong Kong Retail

    Mainland Chinese account for up to three-quarters of visitors to Hong Kong, but that number is falling, and shopping centers are struggling to 'shift gears' and maintain sales

    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.
    Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shababi
    X
    Henry Ridgwell
    April 28, 2016 4:20 PM
    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Town Receives Refugees but Lacks Resources

    A wave of refugees is pouring into the Kurdish town of Afrin in northern Syria as a result of fighting between rebel forces and Islamic State militants. VOA’s Amina Misto went to the town and reports local authorities are finding it difficult to cope with this influx of internally displaced people. Bronwyn Benito narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Build Human Tissue on Animal Matrix

    The question has always been, if a gecko can grow back its tail, why can't we regenerate our lost body parts? Well, maybe we can, someday. Scientists are moving towards the ability to rebuild fully functioning organs, and have made significant progress replacing muscles and other tissue.
    Video

    Video Containing Chernobyl Radiation Continues 30 Years After Explosion

    April 26 marks the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Hundreds were killed following the explosion and it's estimated that thousands more have died from cancers caused by the radiation. Henry Ridgwell traveled to Chernobyl and reports for VOA on the continuing efforts to decommission the site -- and on the fledgling plans for a new future in the vast exclusion zone.
    Video

    Video Frustration Builds Among Refugees Trapped at Macedonian Border

    On the Greek border with Macedonia, 12,000 refugees continue to wait. Since the route to the rest of Europe was closed last month, the makeshift camp at Idomeni has seen protests and tear gas. But while those here wait, their frustration grows — as do reports of people attempting to find new ways of continuing their journey. John Owens reports from Idomeni.
    Video

    Video Researchers: Bees Help Kenyan Farmers Fend Off Elephants

    Elephant crop-raiding continues to be a major source of human-wildlife conflict in Kenya, so one elephant researcher is helping to alleviate the problem near Tsavo East National Park with beehive fences, which use elephants’ natural aversion to bees to deter them from farms. VOA’s Jill Craig visited the area ahead of this month's Giants Club Summit, which will bring together dignitaries at Mount Kenya to find solutions to combat poaching, the No. 1 threat to elephants.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora