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

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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  • Bummer (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 01, 2010 @05:12PM (#33765106)

    It feels like one of the most inspiring facets of the military industrial complex is trimmed, while the war machine parts seem to have as much power and influence as ever.

  • How depressing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by turgid ( 580780 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @05:24PM (#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 BJ_Covert_Action ( 1499847 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @05:26PM (#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 Anonymous Coward on Friday October 01, 2010 @05:30PM (#33765314)

    That's what happens when you elect someone whose middle name is "Hussein".

    Thanks for voting him into office, retards. Thanks for helping fuck up our nation.

  • Not really (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jd ( 1658 ) <> on Friday October 01, 2010 @05:30PM (#33765316) Homepage Journal

    There are B-52s still being built. Admittedly, not using the original design and the only similarity with the original is the name, but they are there.

    NASA should be funded in a similar way to the way the BBC is funded in the UK - given a fixed amount for a fixed length of time and a charter for that period of time, with zero interference permitted outside of the GAO verifying that the charter is being complied with to the limits possible given the funding. This hybrid state should have the right to make additional money and should have some of the rights granted to private organizations but not granted to public organizations, but also have some of the protections granted to the civil service.

    This is the only way to give it the funding necessary without the political ties that corrupted the Space Shuttle program, leading to an overweight monstrosity.

  • by icebrain ( 944107 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @05:46PM (#33765508)

    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 in the kneecaps with a lead pipe and then complaining because he's not running very fast.

  • by thue ( 121682 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @05:52PM (#33765568) Homepage

    The shuttle program was a huge waste of money, for almost no science benefit. See []

    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."

  • by blair1q ( 305137 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @06:03PM (#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 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @06:41PM (#33766020) Homepage

    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 these things are being done cheaper with more workers somewhere else where labor is cheap.

    Expensive labor countries simply cannot afford to employ people to make things - the people are too expensive. We are going to be providing unemployment benefits to these people for the rest of their lives, along with most of the other people that were employed in manufacturing. There are no jobs for them. The can operate laundromats or be greeters at Walmart, but the days of high-wage high-tech manufacturing in the US are over.

    There might be a few engineers that could transfer their skills and knowledge to somewhere else - but for the most part they aren't needed. Nobody is doing basic research anymore as everything that is needed to be known for consumer electronics is pretty well known. You need an antenna for a cell phone and you pick it from a book or a catalog. If you try to design something fancy you find out the hard way that the unknowns are going to bite you in the ass, as Apple found out. They either looked in the wrong catalog or tried to do something fancy, untried and without adequate testing. Another rule today is "adequate testing" simply is too expensive in the consumer space - you better use the known parts and not try to go outside of that.

  • by ravenspear ( 756059 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @06:43PM (#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!


    The NASA bill recently passed by Congress [] 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 trout007 ( 975317 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @07:22PM (#33766420)
    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 using existing rockets.

    Finally this bill sucks because it again has NASA owning and operating a rocket. That will eat up our budget forever. We cannot afford to have a rocket AND build something to launch on it. The only answer was to get NASA out of the rocket business and into the spacecraft business. Work with our DOD launchers Atlas V and Delta IV and other launchers like Falcon, Ariane 5, Proton, Soyuz. I do think the NASA should contract out the design and building of a deep space return capsule in parallel with the private sector until those are ready just as a backup. This way we can concentrate on spacecraft and the missions and not pay for an Army to keep the launchpads ready for 2 launches a year. The taxpayers have already paid for 2 great launchers and Elon is building a 3rd. In a few years DOD will start the design for the next generation of launchers and Congress should make sure they are man rated which too hard to do if you have the requirements from the start. The Obama administration had it right on this one.
  • Re:Wonder how.... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by slew ( 2918 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @07:31PM (#33766496)

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

    (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 positions, from any NASA facility without authorization by the Congress to implement the proposed strategy.
    (b) PRESERVATION OF SKILLS AND COMPETENCIES.--The Administrator shall preserve the critical skills and competencies in place at NASA Centers prior to enactment of this Act in order to facilitate timely implementation of the requirements of this Act and to minimize disruption to the workforce.
    (c) PROHIBITION.--The Administrator may not implement any reduction-in-force or other involuntary separations of permanent, non-Senior-Executive-Service, civil servant employees any earlier than 6 months after the receipt of the study required under section 1102, except for cause on charges of misconduct, delinquency, or inefficiency.

    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? What would (or could) the 'D's (or the 'R's for that matter) spin this obvious violation of the law?

    Yeah, life is a bitch when you are in a recession and there's no money for your project. That's all there is in this story, nothing less, nothing more. Neither the 'D's or the 'R's care much about government employees or the money that they spend (for example, how about 'D's reducing the military staffing, don't members of the military spend money too and go on unemployment when they don't get a commission). Members of both parties mostly just care if the spendin' is in their state (or district), not what it is being spent on.

    Remember dumping money in the private sector creates jobs too (which if you read the following part of the bill, you can see)...

    The Congress affirms the policy of--
    (1) making use of United States commercially provided ISS cargo, crew transportation, and crew rescue services to the maximum extent practicable;
    (2) prohibiting, to the extent practicable, any capability of the Space Launch System from competing with United States commercial providers that meet the requirements of this title for the provision of routine ISS crew and cargo transportation and rescue services; and
    (3) facilitating, to the maximum extent practicable, the transfer of NASA-developed technologies to United States commercial orbital human space transportation companies in order to help promote the development of commercially provided ISS crew transportation and crew rescue services.

    This government technology giveaway to (and prohibition to compete with) companies that are in certain states and districts seems to be a prime example of trying to replace public jobs with private jobs. Might work, might not, but either way some companies in some districts are going to get some free bucks $$$... Hopefully they'll create a job or two instead of shipping them overseas...

  • by jthill ( 303417 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @07:46PM (#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!


  • Re:seriously (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 01, 2010 @08:40PM (#33767010)

    That is not a truly valid comparison, people in the military industrial complex actually produce things using sophisticated techniques and advance technology. They push the limits of our knowledge, a lot of this knowledge eventually makes its way in to the civilain world which we now use everyday.

  • Re:Not really (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Darth_brooks ( 180756 ) * <clipper377@ g m> on Friday October 01, 2010 @08:56PM (#33767124) Homepage

    It's more accurate to say that it is incredibly, ridiculously, hugely unfeasible to make new spars. He's got a point, the original fabs are long gone. Our organization (see the homepage) has to have parts made for our B-17 all the time (i know, I'm the guy that has the scans of the late 40's microfiche drawings that Boeing did for the B-17G. We need a part, I hunt and pick through 30 gigs of scans. Do I have those scans backed up in three different buildings on RAID'd devices? You bet your sweet bippy I do.)

    The problem isn't always finding a part. True, many parts simply fell off the face of the earth years ago as the metal became worth more as scrap (cowl-flap hinges for example. It's a hunk of aluminum that fits in the palm of your hand that was cutting edge aluminum casting technology in the 40's. Today, our machine shop contact uses it as a "here, make one of these, scooter" test for the high school kids working the CNC machine).The bigger problem is getting someone to accept the liability of putting the part they make *on an airplane*. That introduces a whole new level of pucker factor, and level of inspection, that many shops simply won't deal with. It might be a different game in government contracting for the military, a company still has to be willing to step up and take the risk of having that left handed widget go into place on a machine that can't simply pull over to the side of the road if it should break.

  • by Hartree ( 191324 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @10:18PM (#33767574)

    That can have downsides.

    Go read up on the late Jerry Bull []

Think of it! With VLSI we can pack 100 ENIACs in 1 sq. cm.!