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SPACE SHUTTLE WORK MOVING TO FLORIDA.

Byline: Jim Skeen Staff Writer

PALMDALE - Saying it can save millions of dollars, NASA announced Tuesday that it will perform all future space shuttle modification work at the Kennedy Space Center instead of Palmdale.

Boeing, which performs the modifications under a NASA contract, will trim its Palmdale work force from 307 people to 110 as a result of the decision and will try to find those workers other positions in Southern California, a company spokesman said.

``This decision reflects NASA's primary goal of maintaining safety as its primary objective and then evaluating cost savings and risks associated with that decision,'' said Sean O'Keefe, administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. ``It is obvious that in the current fiscal environment, it makes more sense to perform this work at the launch site for the foreseeable future.''

Besides eliminating scores of Palmdale jobs, the decision means that with the exception of an occasional landing at Edwards Air Force Base, space shuttles will no longer be seen in the Antelope Valley, where the first rolled out 23 years ago.

All five shuttles - including the ill-fated Challenger - were assembled at U.S. Air Force Plant 42, and all but one modification project was conducted there. Edwards Air Force Base was the primary shuttle landing spot for the first decade, but has been relegated to backup status since 1991.

``I'm extremely disappointed,'' Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford said Tuesday of NASA's decision. ``I still believe this is the most cost-effective place to do the work.''

Ledford said the loss of the shuttle work is a blow for the state's efforts in trying to attract and retain space-related work.

U.S. Rep. Howard P. ``Buck'' McKeon, whose district includes Plant 42, called Tuesday ``a very sad day for our community,'' and said he understands NASA's decision but believes it is short-sighted.

``By doing future modification work at the launch site instead of at its conception site, NASA will lose the institutional memory of an experienced work force that cannot be replaced by training,'' McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, said.

Boeing's remaining Palmdale employees will continue to work on space-support projects, including manufacturing parts for the shuttle fleet. Boeing, which had advocated doing the shuttle modifications in Palmdale, still is hopeful shuttle modification work will return.

``The plan is to keep the Palmdale plant open,'' said Boeing spokesman Glen Golightly. ``To keep the orbiter fleet flying as long as NASA plans will require more upgrades. The best place to do that is Palmdale.''

NASA officials said by moving the modification work to Florida they can take advantage of the existing Kennedy work force.

In Florida, they would only have to add about 235 workers to assist with the modifications, NASA said. Doing the work in Palmdale would require a work force of close to 400 people.

NASA estimates it will save about $30 million on the next shuttle modification by doing the work in Florida. The shuttle Discovery is due to undergo modifications in spring.

In announcing the decision, NASA stated that keeping two modification facilities active to support four orbiters was no longer feasible given the agency's budget situation.

The decision was reached after evaluating site selection criteria established by its Office of Space Flight, NASA said.

NASA said the criteria included cost and risk, manifest impacts, shuttle flight schedule, management and work force skills and experience, major modification performance in the past and present, facility utilization and centralization of operations.

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

(color) Except for occasional landings at Edwards Air Base, like this one last year, America's space shuttles will no longer be coming to Southern California.

John Lazar/Staff Photographer
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 6, 2002
Words:606
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