Last week there was a tweet that came through in my stream that disturbed me and I felt it was important to say something back to this person. It doesn’t matter who it was or why it was tweeted, what I want to focus on is the tweet itself and what it meant to me. It evoked emotion and sadness. I did not find it funny and it was hardly sarcastic. The person apologized. This post is not about them, it’s about my strong reaction to the tweet.
The tweet mentioned disgruntled shuttle workers.
I found it insulting to the thousands of people who have dedicated their lives to the shuttle program and human spaceflight. All of us, regardless of whether we support shuttle or station work day and night, even holidays, to ensure the safety of the astronauts, the ground crew, and the public. I can’t tell you how many holidays I have worked or even volunteered to work because I believed what we do at NASA is so important to the future of our planet. I’m not the only one that feels this way, and I’m sure many if not all of us would sacrifice our lives before that of others. All of us who support shuttle and space station are a part of what makes it successful, we each play an integral role which allows it all to come together in successful and safe missions.
To make matters worse, on Friday not long after I saw the tweet, a mis-communication occurred that caused an unplanned drill at NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, OH based on information that a gunman was on-site and had shot at least one person. There was no gunman. No one had been shot. But, that did occur at JSC a few years back and it triggered flashbacks to that occasion. In reality, people do get desperate and rationalize horrible solutions that are nightmares to the rest of us.
Now, as for the reality of the situation we find ourselves in regarding the end of the shuttle program, the statement “disgruntled shuttle workers” could be taken very seriously. In 2004, the administration and NASA decided to end the Shuttle program after completion of the ISS. Their plan was to have a new program (with a minimized gap of launch capability) in place in order to maintain the U.S. lead in human spaceflight and to transition a number of shuttle workers, many whom have specialized skills due to the existence of the space shuttle program. Today we find ourselves with just two planned shuttle flights left (STS-133 Discovery and STS-134 Endeavour) and a possible third (STS-135 Atlantis) with no follow on program to start any time soon. Even if the Constellation Program was not canceled, we were still years away from flying. In my opinion the government has let down thousands of workers who have learned specialized skills to support a 30 year program. The government failed to fund the program of record, the government canceled the program of record, the government is having trouble deciding which direction this nation should pursue in terms of human spaceflight and long term exploration goals. Is it the government’s responsibility to take care of these workers, not necessarily, but I do think it’s the government’s responsibility to put us on a sustainable path forward for space exploration, one with meaning and one which will make a difference.
Back to the thousands of workers in the process of being laid off. Regardless of the situation we find ourselves in, I do not know a single person who would jeopardize the safety of the crew, ground crews, or the public. Yes, we will have a hard time mentally, emotionally, and financially transitioning from the shuttle program. But, we will not hurt the program in any way whatsoever regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in. I ask those of you who do work in the program to look out for each other and utilize your company’s EAP (Employee Assistance Program) because it will be a tough transition.