Tag Archives: layoffs


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.



How could NASA’s New Vision Fail?

(Originally posted on February 11, 2010 on the Space Tweep Society blog)

Is this the new vision the solution?  Maybe.  The idea is to have NASA do the Research and Development (R&D) work to raise the TRLs from low to high so that they can be turned over the commercial industry.  While NASA has continued to do R&D all of these years, they have not been able to invest in everything they’d like to do because human spaceflight is expensive.  The concept is, make NASA an R&D institution and have the commercial industry pick up the flying into space portion.

My concern is this looks all grand on paper but at the end of the day where is the money and where is the implementation plan.  This plan is subject to the same perils that have doomed previous NASA programs and is at the whim of Congress and the next President(s).  What’s to keep Congress from cutting the funding (line by line remember) of specific NASA R&D departments?  What’s to keep the next President from coming in and saying this was a horrible plan and redirect the agency again?  Nothing.  Remember, there are no guarantees.

How could the new vision fail?

  • If Congress does not fully fund (for all the years to come) NASA to do the R&D work that is required to increase the TRL levels.
  • If the commercial industry does not invest significant amounts of their own money to develop human-rated launch vehicles and spacecraft.
  • If each NASA center does not secure funding to enable it to keep its contractor workforce
  • If NASA does not put together a procurement strategy such that the contracts can be in place to start spending the money right away.

Is this the right time? Is there ever truly a right time? While the budget is an increase in dollars over the FY2010 budget, it is less than what was submitted by NASA as a request for FY2011. Do you jeopardize thousands of jobs across the nation at a time when the nation is still recovering from a recession/depression?  Because, while the white house is saying this will create jobs, it will actually put NASA contractors out of work as their services are no longer required under the new vision.  The old contracts will be terminated and since this is a government agency, it will take time to start up new contracts.  How long will companies need to “hide” employees (cover costs) before those companies lay off or go out of business?  Which of the companies that exist purely to service NASA will go out of business because their services are no longer needed?  Just because a service was needed at one time, does that mean it should always be required?

Let me share with you the possible worst-case impact this could have to Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, TX.  JSC has been the home to three major programs, Shuttle, Station, and Constellation which includes their program offices, crew and flight controller training, and mission operations (mission control).  This is by no means all that takes place at JSC, but it is its major purpose for existing.  Since 2003, the plan has been to phase out the Shuttle program in 2010 and that is not changing.  So JSC has been planning the end of an era and working on transitioning some workers to other opportunities.  Lay-offs are in progress and will continue.  NASA Administrator, Bolden mentioned last week that crew training and mission control for the new spaceflight companies will not be done by NASA.  Astronauts don’t even have to be employed by NASA.  This is all still to be figured out as the new vision unfolds.  What we do know is that JSC just took a zinger under the new vision.  Shuttle retirement was already planned, but Constellation died unexpectedly and along with it the core competencies that JSC offers which is crew training and mission operations.  So, what will JSC do under this new vision?  What skill base can they maintain?  You are going to see the space centers battle it out for funding over this next year to keep their centers and the communities that surround them alive.

The Clear Lake area surrounding the Johnson Space Center exists because of NASA JSC.  If JSC is unable to think outside of the box and embrace this new vision then there will be a ripple down effect throughout the area affecting everyone.

So what does this mean to you?  It means everyone needs to do their part to make sure that the new vision is a success, regardless of your relationship to space exploration.  Do what it takes because failure only hurts our nation and our children’s future.

*Comments have been ported over.