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Last Shuttle’s Retirement Move Pains Workers

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The latest wave of layoff notices struck the same day last month that a small group of journalists toured Atlantis’ stripped-down crew compartment. The hangar was hushed, compared with decades past. Despite pleas from management to put on smiles, many of the technicians and engineers were in no mood for happy talk as reporters bustled about.

The way many of these workers see it, they’re being put out to pasture, too.

Joe Walsh’s walking papers are effective Dec. 7.

“Pearl Harbor Day,” the 29-year shuttle program veteran pointed out as he showed a reporter around the crew compartment.

Three-hundred jobs are set to vanish by January, with more layoffs coming in the spring.

Shuttle contractor United Space Alliance already has let go about 4,100 from Kennedy and its Florida environs since 2009. Just over 1,000 of its employees remain at the space center; at the height of the program there were 6,500.

President George W. Bush, in 2004, ordered the end of the shuttle program, to be followed by a new moon exploration program named Constellation. But President Barack Obama axed Constellation and set NASA’s long-term sights on asteroids and Mars, with private U.S. companies providing service to the International Space Station.

“People know that they could have flown this (shuttles) longer until they had something else, and then they canceled the other stuff,” said Walsh, a shuttle technician.

The 65-year-old doubts he’ll find new work because of his age.

“I’m not blaming anybody,” Walsh said. “It’s politics. It’s all about money.”

Technician David Bakehorn, 55, is also counting down his final work days after 27 years on the job. His layoff is effective Jan. 4.

Bakehorn was there when a brand new Atlantis arrived at Kennedy Space Center in 1985, the fourth operational ship in the fleet.

“It’s a big divorce that nobody wants – because we’re a family,” Bakehorn said. “We’ve watched each other get old and gray and bald. We’ve watched each other have kids, watched them grow up and watched them have kids … I’d do anything for most of these people here. I’ve spent more time around a lot of them than I have my own family, my own kids and my own wife. So it’s very difficult.”

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Posted by FanningCommunications on Dec 1st, 2012 and filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response by filling following comment form or trackback to this entry from your site

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