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1,800 in Shuttle Work Force Face Layoffs

From Associated Press

The company that makes external fuel tanks for the space shuttle said Wednesday it will lay off between 700 and 800 workers in New Orleans, while industry sources predicted as many as 1,000 layoffs at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The layoffs announced by Martin Marietta in New Orleans and the expected layoffs at Kennedy Space Center were blamed on the suspension of the shuttle program following the Jan. 28 explosion of Challenger, in which seven crew members were killed.

The layoffs in New Orleans, which are to take place by Oct. 3, are the second this year at the Michoud assembly plant. In April, about 700 Martin Marietta employees lost their jobs because of the suspension of the shuttle program.

Tank Demand Drops

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The Challenger’s external fuel tank was ruled out as the cause of the Jan. 28 blast that killed the crew members. But suspension of the program meant substantially less demand for the tanks, said Martin Marietta spokesman Evan McCollum.

At the Kennedy Space Center, sources said those workers losing jobs will be personnel working on the shuttle processing contract. They are employed by Lockheed Space Operations Co., Grumman Technical Services Co., Morton Thiokol Inc. and Pan Am World Services Inc.

Other Kennedy Space Center contractors also are expected to reduce their work forces before the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1, said the sources, who spoke on condition they not be identified.

Defers to NASA

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Lockheed spokesman John Williams said any announcements concerning layoffs would have to come from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

NASA said only that the companies are working on reducing their staffs to match requirements of the agency’s fiscal 1987 budget.

No NASA employees are expected to be laid off.

About 1,200 contractor employees here already have lost their jobs since the shuttle explosion. Shuttle flights are not expected to resume until 1988.

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About 750 of the earlier layoffs were the result of the accident. The others, mostly workers involved in renovating a shuttle launch pad, had been planned.

Little Short-Term Hope

McCollum, the Martin Marietta spokesman in New Orleans, said President Reagan’s recent announcement that another shuttle will be built was good news for the company. But, he said, there is little hope anyone will be rehired for several years.

“We won’t increase tank production until 1990,” he said.

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The layoff announcement was yet another blow to New Orleans’ beleaguered economy, where unemployment has stayed at about 11% for months.

Richard M. Davis, president of Martin Marietta Michoud Aerospace, said the company is trying to find work for many of the affected workers at other Martin Marietta plants.


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