By Jason KUROSU
La Cañada Flintridge’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is in the process of laying off around 200 employees, a process that will be completed by the end of March. NASA, like many federal programs, has suffered from tough economic conditions that have yielded numerous budget cuts. Last fall, around 50 employees were laid off due to similar concerns about budget cuts.
Notices about the layoffs have been circulating since mid-February.
“The goal was to let people know as soon as possible,” said JPL spokeswoman Veronica McGregor.
President Obama’s recent budget proposal allocates $18.7 billion for NASA through the 2012 fiscal year, the same amount they received in 2010. However the layoffs, according to reports, are more related to uncertainties about the 2011 budget rather than 2012.
The approximately 250 layoffs in the last six months are significant as JPL is La Cañada Flintridge’s largest employer, with about 5,200 employees.
According to McGregor, “No more [layoffs] are expected at this time.”
Despite all the budgetary concerns, NASA remains quite active.
“Our current missions remain funded,” McGregor said. “We have an incredibly busy year in 2011 with four mission launches (Aquarius, Juno, GRAIL, and Mars Science Lab) and the already in-flight Dawn mission reaching the asteroid belt.”
NASA is also currently exploring potential commercial spaceflight projects, projects which NASA hopes can be in operation as soon as 2014.
For now, the unfortunate realities of the budget situation have tempered some of that optimism. However, the uncertainties of the economy also suggest that the potential for new missions requiring more manpower could open up at some point.
Asked if JPL is still hiring scientists, McGregor said, “It’s not uncommon for people to move from missions that are winding down to missions that are ramping up, when possible.”