– NASA is aiming to complete an initial ground operations blueprint for its new astronaut launching system this summer, a timetable agency officials hope will encourage
the current space shuttle work force in Florida to stick with the program through its scheduled 2010 retirement.


Establishing an operating
for the Constellation program – consisting of the Orion crew capsule, its Ares 1 launcher and other hardware NASA needs to replace the shuttle and go on to the Moon
– will provide stability in
a work force unsure about future opportunities in the Florida space industry, Kennedy Space Center Director Bill Parsons said in a May 9 interview


There are two years and at least nine flights to go before the shuttle fleet is mothballed for good, and Parsons believes workers will begin seriously weighing their options by next summer as the program winds down. NASA’s
goal is to get ahead of that timeframe by issuing a request for proposals for Constellation operations early next year.


Although the contract will not be awarded until 2010, the request for proposals will provide workers with enough details about the job skills NASA will need for
ground processing, assembly, integration, test, launch and recovery for Constellation,
Parsons said.


“If five people, for example, think they have a shot at one job, that may keep them until the end of the program,” he said. “Only one of them may get it, but they love what they do and they want to work in this business, so they may stick around trying to make sure that they can make that transition.”


Among those vying
for those positions will be many of the 4,000 United Space Alliance employees in Florida. As the current shuttle operations contractor, the company, owned jointly by Boeing Co. of Chicago and Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin Corp., has conducted launch and recovery, flight hardware testing and processing, payload integration and ground systems maintenance and operation since 1996. The contract value is $550 million this year but will drop by 10 percent over the next two years, said NASA spokesman Mike Curie.


In July 2006, NASA awarded Houston-based United Space Alliance, Boeing Space Operations Co. of Titusville, Fla., Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co. of Denver
and ATK Launch Systems Group of
Brigham City, Utah,
each 90-day, $150,000
contracts to study Orion and Ares ground operations.
Recommendations from those studies are
NASA formulate its concept of operations
, NASA spokeswoman Stephanie Schierholz said. As envisioned, these operations will utilize a mix of new and existing-but-modified infrastructure, she said.

Since then NASA has held several meetings with potential contractors and subcontractors, and Parsons expects to issue a request for proposals early next year.


Meanwhile, United Space Alliance is holding question and answer sessions at work, at parties and at other informal gatherings to keep the lines of communication open, said Mark Nappi, associate program manager for ground operations at United Space Alliance. In a
congressionally mandated report released in March, NASA
said Kennedy Space Center could lose up to 6,400 jobs by the time the space shuttle is retired. NASA cautioned that the report was a worse-case scenario that did not take into account upcoming contracts for returning the United States to the Moon by 2020, such as the $20 billion worth of Ares 5 contracts.

“We tell [employees] it’s too early to predict what the size of the work force will be,” Nappi said. “We’re providing both sides [of the situation]. … We tell them there’s likely going to be less of us out here into this new contract because of the nature of the vehicle.”


Space shuttle contractors are offering incentives to workers with critical skills to encourage them to stay until the end, Parsons said. United Space Alliance, for example, will pay bonuses and expanded severance packages of up to one year’s pay to workers with critical skills who close out the shuttle program, Nappi said.


The turnover rate is up slightly at 6.5 percent, but United Space Alliance’s
Constellation-related work encourages most employees to stay put, he said. The company, for example, is part of the Lockheed Martin-led team for Orion.

The civil service work force at NASA is expected to remain stable through the transition
, although some skills within the shuttle program will change, Parsons said. For example, Constellation will not require the same number of people with expertise in thermal tiles. NASA is identifying people now who might need to obtain training or additional certification required by Constellation.


“We’re trying to show our NASA civil servants where they fit for the future. But that’s a little harder for the contractor to do because we haven’t had the competition for the new ground operations contract,” Parsons said. “If we’re able to get that in place, whoever that contractor is can work with the United Space Alliance and try to map those folks into positions in the new contract. We need to make a decision this summer … to get that on the streets so that we can start with that mapping so people can see
[that they]
have a chance at that job.”

Comments: riannotta@space.com