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NASA begins layoffs as shuttles to be retired

The United States space agency NASA plans to eliminate 900 manufacturing jobs over the next five months as it prepares to retire its space shuttle fleet next year, NASA officials has said.

The first 160 layoff notices were to go out late yesterday, primarily to contractors producing the space shuttle fuel tanks outside New Orleans and the shuttle solid rocket boosters in Utah.

"This is the first significant loss of manufacturing capability," shuttle program manager John Shannon said on Thursday.

The prime contractors for all of those components are Lockheed Martin Corp and ATK Thiokol.

The three-ship shuttle fleet is due to be retired after eight more flights to finish building and equipping the International Space Station and a final servicing call to the Hubble Space Telescope.

Managers on Thursday decided on a May 11 launch date for shuttle Atlantis' 11-day mission to Hubble.

Liftoff is scheduled for 2:01pm from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

NASA plans to replace the shuttles with Apollo-style capsules that in addition to traveling to the space station will be able to fly astronauts to the moon's surface.

Hoping to keep the new spaceships, named Orion, on track for a 2015 debut, NASA said earlier it had decided to produce only one version of the capsule with room for four astronauts. Originally, they were considering the six-seater version that had been planned for flights to the station.


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