After 37 years of playng a major role in the U.S. space program, Lockheed Martin Corp. made it official: the era of building space shuttle fuel tanks at the NASA Michoud Assembly Facility is over, along with scores of jobs.
The company completed laying off about 800 shuttle program employees this month, leaving about 600 whose futures are tenuous.
Lockheed Martin said most of those remaining are working on a component for the Constellation program -- which Congress wants to get rid of -- and providing launch and landing services for the soon-to-be-discontinued shuttle program.
Two shuttle launches remain on the schedule for Nov. 1 and Feb. 26. In addition, Congress passed a NASA funding bill Wednesday that calls for an additional mission in 2011.
But Lockheed Martin spokesman Marion LaNasa said Thursday that all the giant external fuel tanks and hardware have been delivered to the Kennedy Space Center -- enough for three additional missions. LaNasa said all workers have been laid off and the assembly line has been shut down.
"Production is over," he said.
The last of the 136 external fuel tanks built at Michoud arrived at the Kennedy Space Center on Sept. 27. The shuttle payroll had already dwindled from a height of 5,000 employees in the 1980s to 1,438 on Jan. 1.
At one time, there was hope the planned next phase of the space program -- the Constellation vehicle to carry astronauts to the moon and perhaps to Mars -- would replace a chunk of the shuttle jobs.
But Congress passed a bill Wednesday scrubbing that program for the next federal fiscal year beginning Nov. 1. Part of the Constellation program is the Orion space capsule, which Lockheed Martin has continued work on.
LaNasa said Lockheed Martin will maintain a support staff for the shuttle program through the last mission.
The state has been trying to attract businesses to Michoud. Last month, Devens, Mass.-based American Superconductor Corp., which builds equipment for power generators and utilities, acquired 25 percent of Blade Dynamics and said it will build wind turbine blades at Michoud, creating at least 600 jobs over the next decade.
The official shutdown came without fanfare. In July, Lockheed Martin held a ceremony with about 1,000 workers when the last tank scheduled to fly came off the assembly line. The tank delivered this week was a spare NASA ordered.