September 22nd, 2010
05:55 PM ET

As shuttle program nears its end, NASA gives employees a personal view

Shuttle Discovery arrived at the launch pad this week ahead of its final lift-off on Nov. 1.

This week, NASA rolled out the space shuttle Discovery ahead of its final launch on November 1.  The final shuttle launch is slated for late February, effectively ending the U.S. shuttle program which began in the 1960s.

As the end nears, NASA has relaxed the rules so employees can get an up-close view of the vehicles they have passionately worked on for many years.

As the sun set over Kennedy Space Center on Monday,  the mobile launch vehicle carrying Discovery slowly crawled passed the people responsible for keeping the spacecraft flying for the past 26 years on 38 flights. Cheers erupted from thousands of NASA workers gathered outside, as if a rock star just took the stage.

Astronauts signed autographs for employees and their families gathered along the gravel trail.

It took Discovery over six hours to travel the 3-mile journey to launch pad 39a, which it reached early Tuesday.  All day Tuesday, NASA shuttle buses transported thousands of employees to the shuttle, where they could take up-close photos of Discovery.

Large groups from the same work site would travel together to have group photos taken in front of Discovery.  Some groups would wear matching shirts while others held signs for the photos.

Beth and Jesse Palma, who tied the knot in April, wore their wedding attire for the occasion.

"We wanted something different than a standard wedding photo," said Jesse Palma, 27 .  He and his wife have worked for the contractor United Space Alliance at the Kennedy Space Center since 2008. Beth Palma, 26, works at the launch pad and Jesse works at the orbital processing facility.

Jesse and Beth Palma, both NASA contractors, posed in their wedding attire near the Discovery Shuttle.

Jesse Palma said they wanted a less formal wedding photo to give their parents and to have something with the space program to hang on their wall at home.

"So we combined the wedding with the shuttle," he said.

For some employees, the exclusive access to Discovery was a bittersweet moment since it was the last time they would see a shuttle up close. On October 1, 2010, more than 900 NASA workers will be laid off as the shuttle program is retired.  That's just part of over 8,000 NASA workers who could see their jobs eliminated as the last shuttle launches in February 2011.

Jesse and Beth Palma are not part of the upcoming layoffs.  Nevertheless, the impending change is having an effect on everyone at KSC.

"It's so sad to see it come to an end," he said.

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Filed under: Florida • Space • U.S.
soundoff (25 Responses)
  1. Roger

    Alas the space shuttle program is over and with no clear future goal for NASA, the US now risks falling into obscurity while other nations now compete erroneously for the top position of leading nation for manned spaceflight. I wish the politicians and the citizens of our nation realize that there is a universe beyond our planet... At least history will always remember us as the first nation that walked on the moon :). The prestige of a manned Mars mission will probably go to one of the rising twin superpowers of the 21st century... India and China. It's a real shame but I guess no one can stay on top forever :/

    September 22, 2010 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Ryan

    You just need to get your facts straight. The us and russia have been working on developing a spacecraft to travel to mars for years. There are also studies by the us (and others) to help develop new spacesuits, vehicles, and equipment for the future endeavor. The issue is not which country will be first but when will we work as a world to get there together.

    September 22, 2010 at 8:08 pm | Report abuse |
  3. andrew K

    If only we spend as much effort and $$ for space exploration instead of fighting wars I'll probably be typing this note from my apt in Mars right now. 🙁

    September 23, 2010 at 1:34 am | Report abuse |
  4. bullsballs

    WHO CARES! The billions and trillions of dollars spent on MANNED missions could have been done with robots and HAS BEEN DONE with robots. We are several TRILLIONS of dollars in DEBT to other nations, yet we give away technology and money to other nations and get no return on investment...
    Time to wake up people! We do not need to explore space with people! Use probes and robots to take the risks! Save America! Quit the excessive spending by ignorant politicians! If there is money to be made in space, let the private sector fund it and take the risks. After all they are sitting on 1.8 trillion dollars waiting for a change in presidents...

    September 23, 2010 at 1:57 am | Report abuse |
  5. 16Penny

    It is sad to see the shuttles mothballed. Why haven't we been busy figuring out how to retrofit one or two of them to serve during the transition phase, a plan B so to speak. I hope they have something that they have been holding back. Add this to the Obama legacy. Where's my shirt and bumpersticker showing him pulling the plug on the space program (Yes I can!). Where is all of the talent going to go work? Certainly not McDonald's. What a waist of our investment in the program. Maybe they will get jobs during the next census if they are still in the country.

    September 23, 2010 at 2:04 am | Report abuse |
    • Someone

      Your shirt and bumper stick don't exist because Bush pulled the plug on the shuttle program. But please continue to be uninformed and rant and rave that it's all Obama.

      September 23, 2010 at 2:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Another Someone

      @Someone Bush Cancelled the shuttle program so it could be replaced with a next generation spacecraft and funded Constellation. Obama cancelled the Constellation program which was supposed to replace the shuttle. However way you choose to spin it, Obama ended manned spaceflight for the United States. I hate him for that.

      He's turning NASA into another EPA thing, evironmental studies and other assorted religions.

      September 23, 2010 at 3:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Eric Blade

      Obama hasn't ended manned spaceflight, the administration has quite well moved manned spaceflight into the commercial venture it should've become in the 80's.

      September 23, 2010 at 5:33 am | Report abuse |
  6. Eric Blade

    Had the shuttles, and the people aboard the shuttles, and the people involved with the shuttles, and NASA as a whole, been treated like rock stars, like they should be, the world would be a much more advanced place.

    September 23, 2010 at 5:32 am | Report abuse |
    • RocketESR

      Another good way to sum up the lack of emphasis our country as a whole has on space exploration and the technologies that spin off from space exploration. There has been no real "big push from the top down" so to speak in support of the space program for several decades now. Because of this, NASA has had no real long-term direction nor do they have any backbone to stick up for what it really wants to do. They are just bobbleheads to the short-term whims and political motivations of the President as well as Congress.

      September 23, 2010 at 10:21 am | Report abuse |
  7. Shecky

    Another shining example of Obama's grand plan to drive the United States into mediocrity. NASA's downfall was that it wasn't a union operation and didn't have enough minorities on payroll.

    Way to go, O. See what you can do about that mom and apple pie problem we've had too.

    September 23, 2010 at 6:40 am | Report abuse |
  8. Professorcool

    "crawled passed??"" Don't journalists (or their editors) know how to spell anymore?

    September 23, 2010 at 6:58 am | Report abuse |
  9. J.Roberts

    Sure am glad that the Kardashians and Jersey Shore get so much more attention that our space program... Our society has turned to a steaming pile of crap in just a few decades...

    September 23, 2010 at 7:23 am | Report abuse |
  10. Mikey

    Well its good to see at least more people are understanding that this is just one small part of Obama destroying our countries.

    Even the ill-informed liberals who would defend Charles Manson if he had a (D) in front of his name are starting to dwindle in number.

    Only one idiot tried the B...b...but...Bush...defense, and it was quickly silenced.

    September 23, 2010 at 9:14 am | Report abuse |
  11. Janice

    If anyone is interested in some facts (rather than just pointing fingers and babbling ignorance), this is a link to an article about what is really happening with the space program. Yes, the Constellation program was cut, however plans are being made (between NASA and the Obama administration) for an improved space program.

    September 23, 2010 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
  12. JessePalma

    Not sure this fits in with the ever-present space policy debate... but I'm the guy in the suit in the photo 🙂 In case anyone wants to see a sample of our photos from that morning, you can check them out at

    Our friend, photographer and fellow shuttle-worker Andy (the guy in the red) was nice enough to help us with Round 2 of our wedding photos.

    Go Discovery!

    September 23, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
  13. N. Alvarez

    Having a job at KSC was a privilege for every one of those employees. Unfortunately many of them took advantage of their profitable positions. Everyone has a right to be stupid but some just abused the privilege.
    KSC leadership failed to continue manned space flights progress and making it become redundant. They became overconfident in their positions to the necessary changes essential to continue space exploration. Private companies won’t be sitting around idle like KSC leaders had for decades getting paid to sit around eating donuts & coffee.

    The truth is that NASA became a GLORIFIED SOCIAL WELFARE PROGRAM. Time to clean house.

    September 23, 2010 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Johnson

    Constellation was doomed, either now or later. If you add up the numbers in the Augustine Committee report, it would take at least $6 billion more to save ISS, get Constellation to the Moon anytime sooner than the 2030s, and revive all the technology development and scientific research that Constellation had already eaten. Since this was not going to happen, Constellation was never going to get us to the Moon. Even if it did, there was no money in the budget to do anything once we got there. The new plan opens up a new world of research, development, and commercial enterprise, and increases NASA’s budget by $1 billion per year. That’s at least 5,000 new jobs somewhere. We aerospace workers should be trying to land those new jobs or take advantage of our unemployment benefits and take a nice long vacation. Our houses arelong sold or in foreclosure since we took out 2nd mortgages for more than its worth now so money will not be an issue. Sometimes we just have to see the glass as half full. Retirement is also around the corner for many.

    September 23, 2010 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
  15. teddybear

    It's been nothing but a Glorified Social Welfare Program designed to relieve the Tax Payers of their hard earned money and funnel it directly into the bank accounts of Defense Contractors. Most jobs at the Space Center are common jobs that require only common skills. While NASA looked the other way unions and contractors abused the system and negotiated unreasonably high wages and benefits which then were paid by the US government with taxpayers money. In essence these folks priced themselves out of a job. Can't feel too sorry for them

    September 23, 2010 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
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