May 1, 2009

NASA Plans Job Cuts As It Eyes End Of Shuttle Program

NASA plans to begin laying off about 900 employees over the next five years as its space shuttle program comes to a close in 2010.

The first series of 160 employees affected by the job cuts were to be notified on Friday. Most consist of manufacturing jobs of contractors.

"This is the first significant loss of manufacturing capability," said shuttle program manager John Shannon.

The shuttle system is being phased out to make room for new Apollo-inspired capsules called Orion, set to be unveiled in 2015. According to Reuters, NASA said earlier this week that it plans to produce only one version of the capsule with room for four astronauts instead of room for six, as previously planned.

NASA will be using money set aside for shuttle operations to develop Orion and its launcher, Ares.

Meanwhile, NASA's shuttle Atlantis mission to make repairs to the Hubble Telescope is among the final eight flights planned for the shuttle fleet. Atlantis is scheduled to launch May 11 at 2:01 pm EDT from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for space operations, said the agency is keeping a close eye on progression of the swine flu virus, but will not be "doing anything special at this point."

Other flights will include missions to further equip the International Space Station.

The shuttle is the only vehicle capable of making crucial repairs to orbiting satellites as well as larger construction jobs.

NASA plans to make its final visit to the Hubble Telescope this month. The 11-day mission will involve five spacewalks intended to put a new camera in place and deliver a replacement computer. New upgrades will help the telescope to remain in operation until 2014.

The telescope, which was launched in 1990, has been running from a backup computer since October.

On Thursday, the US legislators authorized $2.5 billion in order to keep the US space shuttle fleet in action until the end of 2011 in order to complete necessary tasks on the ISS.


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