NASA Layoffs Linked to Shuttle Fleet Retirement

(Cape Canaveral, FL) -- On May 1, The United States space agency NASA is sending out 160 layoff notices, NASA officials announced Thursday.  The layoffs mainly involve contractors building shuttle solid rocket boosters near New Orleans and space shuttle fuel tanks in Utah.  They’re the first of 900 jobs that are being cut during the next 5 months in preparation for the retirement of the shuttle fleet next year.“This is the first significant loss of manufacturing capability,” Shuttle Program Manager John Shannon told reporters.

The 3-ship shuttle fleet has more work to do before retirement.  Eight additional flights are scheduled to finish equipping and building the International Space Station.  

Also on Thursday, NASA managers said shuttle Atlantis’ 11-day mission to Hubble will take place on May 11. 

“Liftoff is set for 2:01 p.m. EDT from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida,” Ryan Gibson, NASA Manager, said.

NASA officials are watching the nationwide alert over the influenza A (H1N1) flu virus.  The disease isn’t interfering with any of its operations so far.

“We’re not doing anything special at this point,” Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA Associate Administrator for Space Operations, said.

There are plans by NASA to use Apollo-style capsules to replace the shuttles.  Besides traveling to the space station, they would also be able to bring astronauts to the moon’s surface.  Earlier this week, NASA officials said they want the new spaceships, called Orion, to debut in 2015.

“We have decided to produce only one version of the capsule with room for 4 astronauts, rather than the 6-seater version that had been planned for flights to the station,” Bob Goldstein, NASA official, said.  “Money for developing Orion and its launcher, called Ares, is coming from funds that previously went toward shuttle operations and station construction.”

Meanwhile, the last visit to Hubble includes five spacewalks to resuscitate 2 failed instruments and to install a new camera.  NASA hopes the visit will leave Hubble able to continue functioning until 2014 when a more sensitive replacement telescope is launched into orbit.  NASA has performed 4 previous servicing calls to Hubble to install new science instruments and to fix equipment.  The observatory was launched in 1990.

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