Up to 1,800 jobs at Kennedy Space Center will go today, with 2,000 more expected in the coming months.
Atlantis’ return from the International Space Station yesterday brought to an end NASA’s 30-year spaceflight programme.
The latest round of redundancies is between 1,500 and 1,800 jobs in Florida. Close to 9,500 contract workers in total will have been laid off nationwide from the shuttle programme's demise.
The job losses involve everyone from high-ranking managers to caretaking staff. Many of the workers had spent their entire careers at Kennedy Space Centre and were inspired as children to work at the home of the moonshot launches from the Apollo era and the place that has hosted every shuttle lift-off in the past 30 years.
“For me the shuttle is my life, and it's very sad for me to see that part of my life end,” said Glen Longwood, who has worked at shuttle emergency landing sites overseas. He said he hoped to find another job within NASA, where he has spent his entire 18-year career, but he is looking at other jobs around the country.
Hundreds of other soon-to-be-redundant employees gathered with their co-workers over hot dogs, Popsicles, and ice cream at a thank-you gathering NASA held outside Atlantis’ hangar. The space shuttle was parked at the front, offering a final close-up view of the vehicle they had worked on for years.
NASA administrator Charles Bolden said the agency would try to bring back unemployed shuttle workers to help on private-sector spaceflight ventures or for NASA’s efforts to build a vehicle for an eventual mission to an asteroid or Mars. NASA has yet to settle on a rocket design to get astronauts there.
Shuttle workers should “stick their chests out proudly to say they were a part of the most incredible era in American spaceflight”, Bolden said.
For those workers still employed, there will be old business to wrap up and new skills to learn. Test director Michael Ciannilli, who has worked for 15 years on launch countdowns and landing operations will prepare the three shuttles for museum at Cape Canaveral, Los Angeles and suburban Washington and decommission buildings that had been used for the shuttle.