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Nasa space shuttle firm to cut 1,000 jobs

Space shuttle Discovery blasts off in April 2010
Image caption The last Nasa space mission is expected to be in 2011

The US's leading space contractor is to cut the jobs of more than 1,000 of the world's leading scientists and technicians after Nasa ended its space shuttle programme.

United Space Alliance, which manages the shuttle fleet and handles Nasa's International Space Station, said most jobs would go in Florida and Texas.

Two shuttle missions remain, which are scheduled to be completed by 2011.

The job cuts represent about 15% of the workforce, with more cuts expected.

"People being laid off now is just the beginning. Many more thousands will be laid of as the shuttle programme is wound down," Keith Cowing, the editor of space specialist website Nasa Watch, told the BBC World Service.

United Space Alliance is a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

'Cheaper options'

The space shuttle has enjoyed a recent run of success, launching eight flights in 14 months, with the staff setting records for the rapid processing of shuttles and the lowest numbers of in-flight anomalies.

Last month, John Shannon, the manager of the space shuttle programme, wrote to employees saying: "I am extremely proud of how all of you are maintaining your focus and completing the incredible legacy of the programme."

But with so many scientists, technicians and aerospace experts looking for work, Mr Cowing said the prospect of them getting work at private companies that launch satellites were slim.

"The whole idea behind private sector companies is that they can do it cheaper and with a lot more automation than the space shuttle programme used," he said.

"So sort of by definition they can do it cheaper and make a profit by using less people,"

Because these leading space experts have worked with top secret technology makes it very unlikely that they would be allowed to work for foreign companies, he added.

Boeing and Lockheed Martin do not have any plans to transfer them to other departments of their aerospace businesses.

Nasa intends to make the last shuttle flight next February, although several factors could delay that plan.

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