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NASA Orders Halt of Work on Shuttle Parts : Rockwell Plans Layoffs in Downey

Times Staff Writer

Rockwell International will lay off at least 200 workers at its Downey space operations plant this week because the government has ordered the company to stop work on a space shuttle spare parts program, the company said Thursday.

The layoffs are the latest setback to Rockwell’s longstanding desire to continue production of space shuttle orbiters for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Rockwell delivered the last of four planned spacecraft in April.

The layoffs follow the elimination of 1,800 jobs that Rockwell announced in May after delivery of the final orbiter. About 900 of those workers, who were at facilities in Palmdale and Downey, were scheduled to be transferred to jobs at other Rockwell divisions.

Rockwell officials said the 200 workers being laid off this week also may be transferred to other Rockwell programs. Rockwell officials say additional layoffs may occur later this year. The Downey plant employs about 7,000.

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The latest round of layoffs at Rockwell affects primarily production workers on a $40-million program to produce spare parts that could have been used for a fifth space shuttle, according to Arnold Aldrich, a NASA official directly responsible for Rockwell’s work.

NASA decided to kill the structural spares augmentation program because of pressure on the NASA budget. Aldrich said the action is expected to save $30 million of the original $40-million budget.

Congressional committees have cut the agency’s $7.8-billion budget request for fiscal 1986 by more than $300 million, and further cutbacks are looming before the agency’s budget gets through the appropriations process.

The cutbacks are not expected to eliminate or curtail the basic structural spares program, a huge $420-million effort to build a complete set of major shuttle parts, including a spare fuselage, wings, vertical tail and assorted smaller pieces.

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The augmentation program called for outfitting those large pieces with wiring, harnesses and other hardware. NASA is building the spares largely to keep a production capability to build future space shuttles.

But NASA Administrator James M. Beggs recently testified to Congress that the agency can see no need for an additional shuttle orbiter “in the foreseeable future.”

The four existing orbiters are expected to support NASA’s goal to fly 24 space missions annually.


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