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Thursday
Jul212011

NASA Layoffs Planned as Space Shuttle Program Ends

NASA TV(HOUSTON) -- Now that space shuttle Atlantis has returned home safely, America's human spaceflight program faces a period of retrenchment and doubt.

Atlantis' landing early Thursday morning marked the end of NASA's 30-year space shuttle program and the beginning of layoffs for the space agency.  On Friday, 1,500 shuttle workers are scheduled to get their pink slips.  By the time all the layoff notices are handed out, a total of 8,000 workers will have been cut.

At its peak, the shuttle program had about 11,000 people working for it.

NASA's space program, however, is hardly over.  Astronauts will continue to live for months at a time on the International Space Station until at least 2020.  Eventually, the Obama administration proposes they go explore a passing asteroid and ultimately land on Mars.

An ambitious probe to orbit Jupiter is on the launch pad, scheduled for an August launch.  A new Mars rover, called Curiosity, is scheduled to leave in November.  NASA says it would announce Friday where on the Martian surface Curiosity would try to land.

But for now, the one way for Americans to reach orbit will be by hitching seats on Russian Soyuz spacecraft, at a cost of $60 million a pop. 

NASA says that in a few years the job will be taken over by private companies such as SpaceX, Sierra Nevada, or Boeing.  Each has a spacecraft and launcher in the works, though so far, only governments have ever launched people into orbit.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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