NASA budget cuts have forced McDonnell Douglas Astronautics Co. in Huntington Beach to delay indefinitely the hiring of the first of an estimated 1,000 new workers expected to work on construction of the U.S. space station.
The astronautics unit has begun work on the $1.9-billion NASA contract awarded last December but will "not be able to staff up as rapidly as we would have if we had received more money," said John D. MacGregor, McDonnell Douglas' senior marketing manager for the space station program.
"We have a substantial file of applications (for space station jobs)," MacGregor said Wednesday. "We're telling them we'll get back to them."
McDonnell Douglas said at the time the original contract was awarded that it expected to add between 1,000 and 1,300 employees to its existing Huntington Beach work force of 9,200. In all, the McDonnell Douglas contract was expected to create 4,000 jobs, about half of those in California and the remainder in Texas, Florida and Connecticut.
The astronautics unit won't increase its present space station work force of 250 people until more money is made available by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, company officials said.
NASA has awarded McDonnell Douglas a 180-day contract valued at $32.8 million for initial space station work. But McDonnell Douglas had anticipated funding of roughly $150 million for the federal government's current fiscal year, MacGregor said.
Last December, Congress slashed the space station budget to $425 million for the current year, compared to the $767 million sought by NASA. The outlook for additional space station funding this year is uncertain.
Although Congress could decide to release more money for the space station this year, MacGregor believes that it is unlikely that McDonnell Douglas will receive an amount close to the $150 million that it had expected.
NASA Schedule 'Slipped'
"There's a certain amount of disappointment here," MacGregor said. But he said, "We're pretty confident the program will move ahead."
McDonnell Douglas is leading a five-company team of contractors to build the main framework, propulsion, navigation, communication and two air locks for the space station. The station is scheduled for operation in the mid-1990s.
However, the funding shortfall probably means NASA's schedule "has slipped about a year," MacGregor said.
He said the lack of money makes work on the space station more inefficient for contractors because "there aren't enough people to work on all the tasks."