Thursday, May 14, 2009

Cabana to KSC: Stay Focused on Shuttle Safety

Kennedy Space Center workers must stay focused on flying the final space shuttle missions safely while bracing for the loss of 3,500 to 4,000 jobs, KSC Director Robert Cabana told employees today.

"That's tough, that's really hard," Cabana said, during a morning presentation discussing NASA's recently released five-year budget, which was broadcast on closed-circuit television at the space center.

"But we have to face it and we have to deal with it. And nothing in this budget supports anything else but that."

The job losses will primarily affect technicians employed by NASA contractors between 2011 and 2012, after eight more shuttle flights are completed in addition to the Hubble Space Telescope repair mission in progress, Cabana said.

The spaceport had about 11,000 contractor employees as of last fall, according to its 2008 annual report. NASA civil service positions are expected to remain steady at about 2,100.

The agency plans to retire its three-orbiter fleet at the end of 2010 and transition to new spacecraft that won't launch astronauts until at least 2015. They are intended to fly crews first to the International Space Station and later to the moon.

But President Obama has asked for an independent commission to review NASA's human spaceflight plans over the next 90 days, and changes to current policy or spacecraft designs could impact KSC's workforce.

"We can't be distracted by commissions and all this other stuff that's going on," said Cabana, who welcomes the review. "If we make a mistake, nothing else matters. We're done."

The job loss numbers Cabana cited were consistent with NASA projections over the past year. An updated report is due to Congress soon.

He encouraged employees to take advantage of training opportunities offered by the Brevard Workforce Development Board.

And he expressed optimism about the work the shuttle's successor program, called Constellation, would eventually bring to KSC, such as final assembly and checkout of the new Orion crew capsule.

But similar work anticipated on lunar landers, which NASA had hoped to launch by 2020, is likely to be delayed because of inadequate funding, Cabana noted.

"It may not all be here yet, but there is new work coming beyond shuttle," he said.

Cabana is hopeful a partnership with Space Florida to develop a research park will succeed in attracting a diverse range of scientific and technical research. The park would be anchored by the state-built Space Life Sciences facility now on KSC property.

But he said progress partnering with private industry had been limited.

"I'm racking my brain trying to think of things we could bring here, but, you know, there's not a whole lot that we, NASA, can do," he said. "It kind of is what it is."

IMAGE NOTE: Official photo of Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana. Credit: NASA.

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