Space shuttle workers prepare to be laid off


United Space Alliance, the largest contractor for NASA’s space shuttle programme, will lay off approximately half its 5 600 employees as the space shuttle project winds down. Up to 2 800 people will be laid off in late July to early August this year.

United Space Alliance told employees on Friday that half of them will need to find new jobs by the end of the year as between 2 600 and 2 800 employees need to go.
“We’re starting the process,” United Space Alliance (USA) spokeswoman Kari Fluegel said. “We’ll take self-nominations [for layoffs] first, then determine who else needs to go.”

The cutback will affect between 1 850 and 1 950 employees in Florida (at the Kennedy Space Centre), 750-800 in Texas (at the Johnson Space Centre in Houston) and 30-40 in Alabama (at the Marshall Space Flight Centre in Huntsville).
“The accomplishments of this team are unmatched in human spaceflight. It will be difficult to say goodbye to such tremendously talented and dedicated teammates, and we are committed to making this transition as smooth as possible for them,” USA president and chief executive officer Virginia Barnes said.
“Though USA will be a significantly smaller company after the Space Shuttle Program is completed, we are optimistic about our future. USA has a great deal to offer in the way of skills, experience, and expertise, and we are looking forward to providing our unique capabilities to a wide variety of new and existing customers,” Barnes added.
“They’re just a unique team,” NASA’s space shuttle programme manager John Shannon said of the shuttle workforce at a press conference in March. “This is more than a job to them. They’re totally dedicated to supporting the legacy of the shuttle program and doing it right.”

Shannon said NASA has tried to help workers transition into related jobs in their field. “We have done a lot of work making sure we have retention plans in place, there are workforce centres, job fairs,” he said. USA also plans to offer career skills and transition training to employees who will be laid off.

Only two more space shuttle missions are left – one on April 29 (STS-134 with space shuttle Endeavour) and the second on June 28 (STS-135 with space shuttle Atlantis).

The Houston-based United Space Alliance is a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed Martin and has operated the space shuttle fleet for NASA since 1995.

USA’s official notification of the layoffs has long been expected as the decision to retire the shuttles was made following the 2003 Columbia shuttle disaster.

The company has been whittling down its workforce over the past year. In July last year USA issued layoff notices to 1 394 employees, which took effect from October 1.