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After shuttle lands, Mission Control workers will be out of work

The shuttle Atlantis departed the International Space Station yesterday. Eight hundred to 900 workers will be laid off. The shuttle Atlantis departed the International Space Station yesterday. Eight hundred to 900 workers will be laid off. (Nasa TV)
Associated Press / July 20, 2011

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HOUSTON - In the geeky world of space engineering, this large, high-ceilinged room is close to holy. Inside, people speak in hushed tones and observe time-honored traditions.

The place is Mission Control. Beginning moments after launch, flight controllers choreograph everything astronauts do, from waking and eating to walking in space.

“That building, we think of it as a cathedral of spaceflight,’’ said John McCullough, head of NASA’s flight director office. Flight controllers are “the keepers and enforcers of traditions’’ that date back to the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo days.

“You just feel the ghosts when you are in that room,’’ McCullough said.

When Atlantis lands tomorrow, the famous room will seem even more ghostly. After 30 years and 135 missions, shuttles will no longer need controlling. NASA plans to turn the location into a training venue, mostly for astronauts going to the International Space Station and flight controllers working with the station.

Over the next couple of months, 800 or 900 people in the mission operations division will be laid off, said Paul Hill, head of that division and a former flight director himself.

“As proud as we are of our success . . . I have to keep that in perspective with the 90 percent of the workforce that will no longer be part of that effort,’’ Hill said.

Kwatsi Alibaruho, flight director for this final mission, said the specter of so many flight controllers without jobs is “kind of following us through the halls.’’

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