One Small Step For Unemployment?
It would appear NASA
does not have enough money to complete construction on the
International Space Station -- and if the agency cannot get
additional funding cleared, it is looking to trimming an
already thinned-out schedule of shuttle flights, as well as
staffing cuts, to get the job done.
"It is incumbent on us to develop an executable option, or face
the risk of a less desirable option being imposed upon us," NASA
Administrator Mike Griffin wrote to space operations chief Bill
Gerstenmaier in an Oct. 4 memo obtained by USA Today.
In the memo, Griffin instructed Gerstenmaier to look into how much
money could be saved, as well as how many jobs could then be cut,
if Kennedy Space Center prepared one shuttle at a time for launch,
versus working on all three remaining orbiters (Discovery,
Atlantis, and Endeavour) at the same time.
The preparation work could then likely be performed by a single
shift, working in a single shuttle hangar. The mammoth Vehicle
Assembly Building would echo with the sounds of workers mating a
single external tank and SRB pair at a time, according to USA
"You would only really need one team of people working one shift
to do that work," said the Space Foundation's Jim Banke. "You would
not necessarily need to have full-up teams at each hangar or every
facility that supports operating a whole fleet."
The agency likely to be hardest hit by any NASA cutbacks would
be United Space Alliance, a Boeing-Lockheed partnership employing
approximately 6,500 workers who manage the day-to-day necessities
of the shuttle fleet.
While USA would certainly shrink in size as a leaner NASA
retools to go to the moon instead of focusing on reusable space
vehicles, it expects to do so through normal employee retirement
and attrition. "We have not and are not actively considering any
layoffs at USA based on current plans and budgets," company
spokesman Jeff Carr said. "We don't have any reason not to fully
expect a reasonable and manageable solution to the budget
challenges that NASA is facing in the out years."
The study is moot if NASA receives the $5 billion increase to
its budget the agency has asked for to complete a full 19 shuttle
missions -- 18 to the ISS, and one repair flight to the Hubble
Telescope -- before the vehicle is retired in 2010.
In today's budgetary climate, however -- stretched by hurricane
relief and the cost of war in Iraq -- there is no guarantee the
agency will get even a part of that money. The final decision is
expected to be made early next year, after President Bush submits
his 2007 budget to Congress.