Friday, April 08, 2011

Shutdown plans in place at KSC

Fewer than 50 NASA employees and an undetermined number of contractors would staff Kennedy Space Center if Congress and the White House fail to reach a budget deal tonight and the federal government shuts down.

The KSC Visitor Complex would remain open, but contrary to plans anticipated Thursday, tour buses would not be allowed into the space center for stops at the launch pad 39A observation gantry or the Apollo/Saturn V Center.

If government offices are not open by Monday morning, two events planned Tuesday to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the first shuttle launch and announce the shuttles' future display sites will be postponed.

NASA had planned a 1 p.m. event for employees at the hangar where Atlantis is being prepared for the final shuttle mission, followed by a 4 p.m. public event celebrating the shuttle workforce at the Visitor Complex.

The announcement of which institutions win the right to display Discovery, Endeavour and Atlantis in retirement was expected at the 1 p.m. event, which was to feature NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, KSC Director Bob Cabana and Bob Crippen, pilot of the first shuttle mission 30 years ago.

But a budget deal would probably have to be announced by Sunday evening for those events to proceed as planned.

Shutdown or not, the Visitor Complex on Tuesday will welcome the TLC show "Cake Boss" and baker Buddy Valastro, who will make a special space shuttle-themed cake.

Preparations for Endeavour's targeted April 29 launch would cease, but the launch date would not be impacted unless a shutdown lingered into the week of April 18. A meeting to review the flight's readiness and officially set the launch date is currently scheduled April 19.

Some previously scheduled hazardous operations will continue this weekend to drain hypergolic propellants from Discovery's orbital engines and thrusters and its Auxiliary Power Units, part of work to deservice the orbiter and ready it for public display.

NASA's furlough plan shows 46 government employees would staff KSC full-time or part-time during a shutdown for "protection of life and property," with 267 on call.

Overall, fewer than 500 of more than 19,000 NASA civil servants across the country would continue working during a shutdown. Government and contractor employees forced to stay home would not be paid unless they used vacation or leave days.

Meanwhile, the four astronauts scheduled to fly Atlantis on the shuttle program's 135th the final mission wrapped up two days of training at KSC and jetted back to Houston around 4 p.m. today.

Commander Chris Ferguson (left), pilot Doug Hurley and missions specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim visited to get more familiar with the payload and equipment they'll use during the 12-day mission targeted to launch June 28. It was the last time a flight crew participated in what is known as the Crew Equipment Interface Test.

The four-person crew is expected to return in early June for a final countdown dress rehearsal.

Atlantis is scheduled to move from its hangar to the Vehicle Assembly Building for attachment to an external tank and solid rocket boosters on May 12. The final rollout of a shuttle to a launch pad is expected to begin the evening of May 20, with Atlantis arriving at the pad early May 21.

IMAGES: Top, on April 1, workers performed a walk down of shuttle Endeavour following severe storms over launch pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center. Credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann. Bottom: In Orbiter Processing Facility-1 on April 7, STS-135 Commander Chris Ferguson checked out Atlantis' cockpit. Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

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