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1,200 NASA Layoffs, Shuttle Fuel Tank Plant Shuts Down 236

Posted by Soulskill
from the end-of-an-era dept.
As the space shuttle program winds down, 1,200 NASA workers were laid off today, and thousands more will lose their jobs in the months ahead. "Many shuttle workers held out hope that they could find new jobs in the Constellation program, which would have included two new rocket systems and a new crew module to transport astronauts into space. From the beginning, Constellation was plagued by underfunding. This year, Obama killed the program's future funding because of budget overruns and because it was behind schedule. That could affect more than 20,000 workers along Florida's space coast, according to Rice." This comes alongside news that Lockheed Martin has stopped work at the production plant that supplied 136 external fuel tanks for the space shuttles since 1973.
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1,200 NASA Layoffs, Shuttle Fuel Tank Plant Shuts Down

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  • Wanted: Job where I never have to actually produce anything, except for empty promises and cheesy animation. Experience includes 20 years of sitting on my ass in programs that never delivered, playing foosball in the office breakroom, and hanging out at the watercooler. Skills include dazzling the press with hollow hyperbole, covering my ass, waiting out the current administration, milking the naive dreams of baby-boomers, and building mock-ups. Expect union, high pension, and ridiculous benefits package. I
    • by AnonymousClown (1788472) on Friday October 01, 2010 @04:08PM (#33765062)
      I think a career in Congress is right up your alley.
    • by FatAlb3rt (533682)
      Score: -1, Insensitive Prick
    • by Tumbleweed (3706) *

      Laid-off NASA 'worker' or NASA 'manager'? Where was the problem with NASA's culture? I'm sure that not giving a clear mission and a realistic budget was a recipe for disaster, too.

  • Wonder how.... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I wonder how a certain political faction that starts with a 'R' will spin this one? "The Gov'ment" just got smaller yet a thousand folks lost their _jobs_ in a vicious recession. It's funny how it's never considered that all those government employees actually _spend_ the money they make.
    • by istartedi (132515)

      Easy. For the 'R', all government spending is bad unless it's defense related. NASA does military projects, so cutting it is bad.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by slew (2918)

      Okay, I'll bite, I wonder how a certain political faction that starts with a 'D' will spin this one?

      http://democrats.science.house.gov/Media/file/NASACompromiseText.pdf [house.gov]

      SEC. 1106. WORKFORCE STABILIZATION AND CRITICAL SKILLS PRESERVATION.
      (a) LIMITATION.--Prior to receipt by the Congress of the strategy and implementation plan under section 1103(c), none of the funds authorized for use under this Act may be used to transfer the functions, missions, or activities, and associated civil service and contractor po

      • by FleaPlus (6935)

        Yet folks are still layed off after 2 days? I guess "may not implement any reduction-in-force" doesn't mean what it say, or maybe it doesn't apply to the current nasa administrator since he is above the law?

        The people who've lost their jobs are all contractors, who are not covered under the law you mention. None of the civil service employees have lost their jobs.

        • Also, the bill quoted was the House compromise bill, which was not the one eventually passed (which was from the Senate, the House passed it unamended). And that one is not law yet. It has not been signed by the President.
  • If you're willing to relocate 60 miles to the west, Mission:SPACE might be hiring over at Epcot.

  • by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Friday October 01, 2010 @04:17PM (#33765158)

    That's going to hurt. 2 billion dollars. Perhaps more.

    • Grrrr. I posted to fast.

      20,000 workers affected but only 1,200 losing jobs.
      So 120,000,000 million.

      Still quite a hole.

      Hmm how can I save this... okay.. how about htis.

      Each dollar goes around in the local economy about 7 times before exiting.*
      So 120m*7 = 840million loss to the economy.

      * problem- it doesn't any more- if you buy anything from walmart or anything made in china, 95% of your dollar leaves the community immediately. Also anything where the money immediately leaves the country for product or servi

      • It was tax money. That was all money scraped off of the profit that everyone made. It should have no LONG TERM effect on the economy.
        • Oh I can agree with that.. I'm for space travel and I think it's going to get a lot cheaper in 40 years and we could spend it better elsewhere now.

          And tax dollars or not- it's going to blow a hole in the local economy. Those were not minimum wage jobs.

        • That's not necessarily true. From an accounting perspective, you are correct. But when you move a lot of money around like that, the ultimate economic effect is uncertain because the people you move the money to won't spend it the same way the people you took it from were spending it. The money will be used to balance the budget (not lower taxes). That means it will ultimately end up going to support Social Security obligations (which have been growing at an alarming rate). Likely, that means the econo

    • Yeah, %0.13 of the economy. Every number has to be put into scale when you look at the massive size of a 300M person country with a 15 trillion dollar economy.

      $2B sounds like a lot. It really isn't.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by peacefinder (469349)

      Is NASA supposed to be a jobs program or a space program?

      If the latter, then killing the Shuttle and Ares was the right move.

      • by jgtg32a (1173373)
        Do you want to know what it is "suppose to be" or "is"?
      • by nwf (25607)

        Is NASA supposed to be a jobs program or a space program?

        I think every government program is a jobs program. Having worked for the US Government, I can attest that it does nothing well or efficiently.

        • by jthill (303417) on Friday October 01, 2010 @06:46PM (#33766630)

          Yeah. Crappy military, subpar weather prediction, useless satellite data, a white elephant of an interstate highway system, needless food- and drug- and transportation-safety regulations. JPL is a complete waste, the NSA and CIA and FBI should have been privatized long ago, and what exactly is the point of having U.S. Attorneys? Commercial interests would've managed our National Parks so much better. We should have waited for commercial enterprise to invent and deploy GPS. And the Internet. Head Start hurts young children, Pell grants hurt older ones, SBA loans are crutches for incompetent businessmen who should starve on the streets.

          Take them all away. Make them never have been. Miraculously shiny-clean profitable and wholesome businesses would spring up to replace them! Let one thousand flowers bloom!

          There are no bad managers or incompetent employees in corporation-land! Only good people are executives and business owners! *No* one works for the Government for the good of us all! Good people only work to make themselves rich and rich people richer! The rich only give lots of money to good people! There's no other reason to do anything at all! Bring back 14 hour workdays and six day workweeks! Get some use out of your children again! No need to pay taxes, the company provides! See you in the company town, at the company store!

          </sarcasm>.

  • The aerospace industry is suffering from a lack of manpower right now. Both Boeing and EADS are failing to deliver. Sane competitors use times like those to their advantage. Foolish competitors sack their workforce instead.

    Sure, these workers may not have ideal skills for other programs, but that's a matter of training. They already have skills in technologies that required far higher precision and far higher quality than most other projects would require - those are skills that would take a LONG time to te

    • by blair1q (305137)

      I'd make a lousy businessman.

      Future tense. At least you're optimistic about having options.

      Lockheed doesn't have the new projects. Boeing and EADS may be screwing their respective pooches, but that's mismanagement. More staffing would just mean more people mismanaged.

      What needs done is for those companies to start picking over the NASA peeps' resumes, and do some swap-outs. Toss some deadwood and level-up their staves.

      • by Nethead (1563)

        Boeing engineers are unionized.

        http://www.speea.org/ [speea.org]

        Quite the geekfest when they are out on strike.

        • by blair1q (305137)

          Oops.

          There's the new NASA.

          We'll be repeating this thread in a few years when 787 finally shuts down.

          • by Nethead (1563)

            787 has 847 firm orders to date. They'll be building them for quite a while. Sensitive subject where I live. [wikipedia.org]

            FWIW: The first flight of the 787 came over my house at about 700'. Quite the site.

  • by jbeach (852844) on Friday October 01, 2010 @04:18PM (#33765172) Homepage Journal
    Reading the article, Bush actually ended the shuttle program back in 2004. The article further says that if Obama signs a NASA budget bill that authorizes another shuttle mission, those workers could stay employed for one mission longer.

    What Obama is ending is Bush's proposed "shuttle replacement" program, the Constellation. Much as I'd like to see space exploration continue, if the Constellation is already behind schedule and over budget I can understand it. Especially in this current climate.

    It's definitely going to hurt Democrats in Florida though.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jd (1658)

      The Constellation is the official Shuttle replacement. Wasn't there an unofficial replacement being designed (and maybe developed) by ex-NASA guys? That was cheaper, on-schedule and likely to actually work?

      • by jbeach (852844)
        I haven't heard about that. Love to see some info it.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by icebrain (944107)

        Well, another thing they could have done was use an existing EELV with appropriate safety modifications rather than try to design a brand-new rocket from parts. But that doesn't keep favored political districts happy.

        The whole "you're behind on schedule and over budget" thing reminds me of the phrase "don't piss on my back and tell me it's raining". A big reason the program is behind schedule and over budget is because it was never properly funded in the first place. They're whacking their star athlete i

      • by BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) on Friday October 01, 2010 @04:58PM (#33765652) Homepage Journal
        Check out the DIRECT Program [wikipedia.org]. That might be what you are referring to. There are also a lot of other possible shuttle replacements that rely on various degrees of existing vs. nonexisting technology. A little Googling can reveal a lot of them, but I will leave that as an exercise to the reader.
  • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Friday October 01, 2010 @04:21PM (#33765212)

    It always sucks to lose your job. But government layoffs like this are the inevitable result of the long overdue move to getting out of the way of commercial spaceflight.
    Plus, when a highly skilled workforce gets furloughed that is an opportunity for new companies in the area to improve their human capital. Necessity is the mother of invention.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Yeah, corporation tossing shit into orbit. What could go wrong?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Nyeerrmm (940927)

        Plenty of things. Whats your point?

        When you're launching complex machines with low production numbers that are primarily designed to direct and control large chemical explosions, theres a decent risk of something going wrong no matter who is doing it.

  • Do this whole operation 3,000-fold, and then increase taxes by a like amount ($3000 per U.S. resident each year), and at that point you've got basically a balanced federal budget. i.e., The $13 trillion national debt holds steady instead of growing more.

    • by NevarMore (248971)

      Thats not good enough. We actually have to pay down the debt at some point.

      • by blair1q (305137) on Friday October 01, 2010 @05:03PM (#33765692) Journal

        No we don't.

        Not any more than we have to pay down the umpty-trillion dollars in personal debt.

        We may have to pay off the bonds we issued 30 years ago, but we can issue more bonds to be paid in 30 years. They're being done for different projects, so the old projects are being paid for and the new ones are just getting started. Similarly, I may have to pay off my house, but my children can borrow to build theirs. There's still debt in the family, and in the banking system, and it gets bigger as time goes on.

        And it's crucial to the size of the economy. Think "money multiplier" and you'll understand what I mean.

        If we actually did try to pay off the national debt, it could only be by not doing anything new on credit, and insisting on only doing those things we could pay cash for.

        Individuals can do that, after they've paid off their houses and stopped driving anywhere, but it implies your life is coming to a close and you have no use for growth. And their children aren't going to have to live under their parents' paid-off roof for their whole lives, as paupers, because they won't have enough cash to buy a house for decades, if they ever do, because once they have kids they'll have to use the savings for the additional expenses.

        Same deal for entire nations. The only way you can justify going onto a pay-as-you-go system is to tell the future it doesn't get the right to borrow to create the sort of livable conditions you had.

        So no. We never have to pay down the debt. We just have to pay off the old debt and spend the newly borrowed money on things that are good for the country as a whole, instead of on things that make a few people rich to nobody else's benefit.

        • by cdrguru (88047)

          The problem you are missing is that continuing debt only works as long as there is growth. We have pretty much ended the period of growth. Your children will not have a higher standard of living, that much should be obvious.

          Currently, the US is trading with China on the basis of we buy their stuff and they buy our debt. This will work for a while, but at some point China is going to want something besides meaningless paper, which is all we have to give them now. There isn't any gold, there aren't any ma

          • by blair1q (305137)

            We have pretty much ended the period of growth

            Says who?

            And I include China when I talk about the debt cycle as a shift from current projects to new ones. It's a macroeconomic process, and the imaginary lines at the edges of a country don't stop the other side from being part of your economics.

            If America paid off its own debt, it would just be the old, retired guy at the end of the block with nothing left to produce. How's his future look?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 01, 2010 @04:23PM (#33765238)

    The article says October 1 is coincidence. Well, the layoffs are *because* October 1 is the beginning of the new fiscal year for NASA. I (working for a contractor) had my last day yesterday along with a lot of other folks because the goddamn budget still hasn't gone through for the contracts. It's okay for me--I'm a kid, I'm taking a vacation until the money comes back--but for the real talent who still got screwed, who have families, they'll need to find other jobs. The brain drain on the contractors could be a bad thing.

    From what I've seen, we'll get a good NASA back when we fix the problems with its masters. There are lots of good people who are doing lots of good work that then gets mercilessly thrown away by the folks on top. There are other problems, lord knows--endless, useless conferences, useless hangers-on, and an institutional memory that's inching towards 100% Powerpoint--but being able to fund a project to completion goes a long damn way.

  • How depressing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by turgid (580780) on Friday October 01, 2010 @04:24PM (#33765248) Journal

    As a Brit, I follow the US space programme with intereset, because it's the best hope the human race has for getting off this rock.

    It seems to me that buying routine human access to LEO from commercial companies is a good idea nowadays that the technology is sufficiently advanced and well understood, and it seems silly to waste public money on that which can be accomplished quicker, cheaper and safer by the private sector. Ares I looked like a disaster waiting to happen both financially and in terms of crew safety.

    The space shuttle was a remarkable piece of over-engineering, but 14 people lost their lives in it.

    I feel really sorry for these people being layed off. The transition from Shuttle to whatever the successor may be has been very poorly handled. Minds keep changing and there is no plan. Tens of thousands of people will suffer and a great deal of technical skills will be squandered.

    I'd like to see NASA developing a new heavy-lift booster for going beyond LEO, something that can lift huge payloads (100 tonnes?) and people if necessary. I'd like to see big space telescopes, a long-term human outpost on the moon, the manned asteroid missions and a space dock and construction facility for building a real space ship for going to Mars.

    Where is the vision? My country doesn't have any, alas. We cancelled our rocket programme back in the 1970s because the politicians couldn't see a future in satellite launching...

    China is coming along, I suppose, so there might be some home there, maybe even a new space race?

    One thing's for sure, we (the human race) will never get anywhere unless someone sets some goals. We need to learn to live on other planets and the only way we'll do that is by trying.

    So, is NASA going to build a DIRECT launcher now or will there be yet another politically-driven paper study of an over-engineered, under-performing white elephant?

    • by istartedi (132515)

      The space shuttle was a remarkable piece of over-engineering, but 14 people lost their lives in it.

      We should have learned two things: 1. Don't let the managers override the engineers when they know what they're talking about. 2. The manned module needs to go on top so it can't get damaged by crap falling off the boosters.

      I think we may have learned (2), but I'm less optimistic about (1).

      • by trout007 (975317)
        I was kind of hoping the next one would have wings so we could land it on a runway in a civilized manner. Now we will drop them back into an ocean.
    • Re:How depressing (Score:5, Informative)

      by ravenspear (756059) on Friday October 01, 2010 @05:22PM (#33765888)
      So, is NASA going to build a DIRECT launcher now or will there be yet another politically-driven paper study of an over-engineered, under-performing white elephant?

      The 2010 NASA Authorization bill recently passed by Congress [go.com] mandates a new vehicle called the Space Launch System that will have to lift a minimum of 70 tons, evolvable to 130 tons with a second stage.

      The bill states that the vehicle will have to be completed by the end of 2016 within a budget of $11.5 billion.

      The only real option for a rocket of this capacity that can be built within this time and budget is something like the DIRECT architecture. NASA still has to decide the specifics though.
  • by BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) on Friday October 01, 2010 @04:26PM (#33765264) Homepage Journal
    Hey, former NASA employees, I have some thoughts for you. I just graduated with a degree in aero engineering myself a couple years back. I've been paying attention to the space industry since well before then so I have some advice if you are looking for new jobs.

    1) Frankly, we don't know if there will be a government funded replacement for the shuttle ever. As such, start thinking about where your skills could apply elsewhere. Right now SpaceX, Bigelow, Boeing, the ESA, JAXA, Energia, IOS, and numerous other startup space companies are working on manned space programs. These include everything from space station building to capsule development. Most of your decades worth of skills and experience are directly transferable to these companies so start checking them out and applying.
    2) There are other tech. industries where your skills could come in handy. If you worked on automation, data processing, signal filtering, or control dynamics, start looking into the robotics industry. All of those skills apply well there. If you worked in antennae theory, try checking out all of the new research going into wireless technology development (wi fi, 3g, 4g, etc.). If you worked in human-habitat development, I read about a few companies trying to design underwater habitats for humans. That's pretty analogous to habitat development in space. Also, most skills that go into designing spacecraft are directly transferable to designing boats and/or submarines. Those are also some industries you can look into.
    3) Don't neglect to mention the qualities that made you a good employee for NASA in the first place on your resume. You worked on a project the likes of which had never been done before. You are obviously intelligent and a good general problem solver. You are not a pidgeon-holed employee. When the shuttle program started, you had to figure out how to design and build a space plane. There was almost no research in that area before. Likewise, those same problem-solving skills need to be emphasized on your resume now. Don't just talk about that one bracket that you designed. Talk about how that bracket solved a problem that was unique without any prior art. It will make you very appealing to start-up companies.

    You guys worked hard on a great project. But you have to admit that an ~30 year long engineering project is a very long project lifecycle in this industry. Few, if any employees at other organizations can brag about working on a single project that long. That said, thanks for all the hard work, but you, as well as the rest of us, know that the shuttle was past its prime and needed to be put to bed. So please, don't become angry old fogies reminiscing about the good old days. Use those uniquely awesome and genius skills that you have to help lead my generation into a new era of space infrastructure development the likes of which has never been seen before. We have new technologies. We have new mission architectures. We have unprecedented levels of access to enormous amounts of information. We need your wisdom. We need mentors like you as we find our own way in this industry. Seize those resources along side the rest of us in this industry and let's show the solar system just what our silly little species is capable of!
    • by blair1q (305137)

      3) Don't neglect to mention the qualities that made you a good employee for NASA in the first place on your resume.

      For a lot of them, it was "met the degree requirement," "didn't lie on resume' on the things we checked," and "is willing to take goverment pay even though all those Silicon Valley companies are turning secretaries into millionaires."

    • 1) Frankly, we don't know if there will be a government funded replacement for the shuttle ever.

      False. The bill just passed by Congress [scientificamerican.com] sets a very specific requirement for the next government funded vehicle. It will be a heavy lift 75-100mt launcher.
      • by trout007 (975317)
        FALSE on your False. The bill passed by Congress was an Authorization Bill not an Appropriations Bill. Just because they said what they want doesn't mean they will pay for it.
        • False on your false on my false. lol

          Multiple members stated that they worked closely with the Appropriations committees in drafting this bill and developed an understanding such that the Appropriations bill will track closely with the Authorization.
          • by khallow (566160)

            developed an understanding such that the Appropriations bill will track closely with the Authorization.

            While that's a better quality of vapor than usually comes out of Congress, I still wouldn't trust it. Authorization bills routinely aren't backed by appropriations bills, no matter what noises are made by the congresspeople involved. Second, this says nothing about future appropriations. We already have copious evidence that such programs tend to be underfunded (that is, funding is much lower than the lofty ambitions of the launch vehicle program require).

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by cdrguru (88047)

      Unfortunately, most of the people that are being laid off aren't masterful engineers but simple laborers. It takes a lot of labor to assemble huge things out of carefully crafted metal, and these were the folks that were doing it.

      We do not build large things in the US much anymore. There might be a few aircraft plants left where they have 100 people swarming over the body of an airliner gluing and riveting things together. There are a couple of shipbuilders left as well. But for the most part all of the

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by trout007 (975317)
      The people being laid off are not NASA employees. I should know because I am one. We don't get laid off. Contractors do. In fact that is what they are there for because you can't lay off government employees.

      Second. The people working on shuttle knew it would end. That isn't a big deal. The big deal was the renaming of Constellation. We had an administrator a few years ago named Mike Griffen. He was under the impression that having two rockets and all of their infrastructure would be cheaper than 1 or
  • More accurately... (Score:3, Informative)

    by peacefinder (469349) <[alan.dewitt] [at] [gmail.com]> on Friday October 01, 2010 @04:40PM (#33765444) Journal

    "This year, Obama killed the program's future funding because of budget overruns and because it was behind schedule."

    Two things:

    1) The shuttle program was killed years ago by a previous President. It's been a long time winding down the program, but its fate was sealed well before the 2008 election.

    2) The Ares 1, even if completed, would have had serious operational deficiencies. It may be worth paying a lot for a launcher that works well for the mission at hand, but it's been clear for a long time that Ares was never going to be that launcher.

  • It's not political (Score:2, Insightful)

    by bkmoore (1910118)
    Why are there so many people trying to blame the end of the shuttle on the Democrats. The space shuttle has been operational for 30 years across both Republican and Democratic administrations. It was mostly developed during the Ford and Carter administrations. The timing of the space shuttle retirement has nothing to do with the party in power. I get the feeling if there's an earthquake in China Republicans will blame it on Mr. Obama. Maybe its payback for all the flattering films Michael Moore made about M
    • by pavera (320634)

      I don't blame them for the end of the shuttle program, but they certainly do get the blame for canceling any hope of future manned space flight! Awesome Go Democrats! with the economy reeling lets pass trillion dollar bailouts for idiot bankers, and lay off more than 25k scientists and engineers! Awesome way to jump start the economy! Idiots! Hopefully all these nasa engineers can find work in Japan or China working on their space exploration missions...

      as an aside, I also love how the health care legi

      • by ravenspear (756059) on Friday October 01, 2010 @05:43PM (#33766046)
        I don't blame them for the end of the shuttle program, but they certainly do get the blame for canceling any hope of future manned space flight!

        Huh?

        The NASA bill recently passed by Congress [spacenews.com] funds a new government launcher for Orion and deep space missions and includes $1.2 billion in funding over the next 3 years to start building commercial crew vehicles. This money will be distributed to commercial operators under a commercial crew contract in a similar manner to the COTS contracts for cargo that were awarded to SpaceX and Orbital.

        And really, this path will get us back into space faster than Constellation. Ares I was not going to be ready until 2017 according to the Augustine Committee. The new government vehicle is supposed to be done by 2016 and several of the potential commercial crew providers have said they can have their vehicles ready in 3 years.

        Human spaceflight in the US is far from dead.
  • by thue (121682) on Friday October 01, 2010 @04:52PM (#33765568) Homepage

    The shuttle program was a huge waste of money, for almost no science benefit. See http://www.idlewords.com/2005/08/a_rocket_to_nowhere.htm [idlewords.com]

    A random quote: "And of course, there was John Glenn, monitored inside and out, blood tested, urine sampled, entire organism analyzed for signs of accelerated aging. Close observation of the Senator suggested that there might not be any medical obstacles to launching the entire legislative branch into space, possibly the most encouraging scientific result of the mission."

    • The manned space program has never been and will never be about *science*. If you think that's what it is for, you will be sorely disappointed.

  • Damn (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TRRosen (720617) on Friday October 01, 2010 @05:13PM (#33765804)

    Am I the only one looking at those numbers and saying "Damn what the hell did all those people do". Maybe privatization is good. 1200 people to produce a fuel tank every few months. There is a light bulb joke in there somewhere.

  • poor nasa (Score:2, Insightful)

    by luther349 (645380)
    sad being we dump billion into a useless war everyday.

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