HANCOCK COUNTY -- A recent consolidation of operational contracts has resulted in a merging of activities at John C. Stennis Space Center in Hancock County and Michoud in New Orleans, and reduced the Stennis workforce by almost 20 percent.
Stennis director Richard Gilbrech said Thursday the consolidation meant 129 contractor jobs were lost at NASA's Hancock County property.
During an annual update at Infinity Science Center, Gilbrech discussed NASA's plans to have "boots on Mars" within the next 20 years. But in order for humans to reach the red planet, he said the agency had to make some cuts.
"The people are the most important resource we have, so no one ever wants to see layoffs," he said. "This is an effort for us to take on that huge challenge and get to Mars and be more efficient. We're trying to trim more overhead and be more efficient at what we do."
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New firm has contract
The contractors had been employed by Jacobs Engineering. A new contractor, Syncom Space Services took over for Jacobs on Feb. 1. The company consolidated three contracts into one called Synergy Consolidated Operations and Maintenance.
The new contract consolidated many of the services between Michoud, where rocket engines are assembled, and Stennis, where the engines are tested.
Gilbrech said, "We don't want to overlook that these are real people who have worked here for 30 or 40 years, advancing the space program. My hope is this makes us more competitive in the future so we can bring more jobs back in the future."
Journey to Mars
Gilbrech said NASA has had people in space for the past 15 years as part of the International Space Station program.
"Congress has agreed to fund this program through 2024," he said. "We are delivering cargo up there by American rockets."
Although NASA ended its space shuttle program in 2011, Gilbrech said space exploration has continued and NASA's long-term goal is to get to Mars by the mid-2030s.
"We want to go on long explorations that last like 30 months," he said. "We want to send humans to Mars. It's a huge challenge, but we have a lot of good work going on."
He said some of the programs NASA is developing are not too far off base from Ridley Scott's film, "The Martian."
"'The Martian' had a lot of what I like to call 'science fact' instead of science fiction," Gilbrech said. "We're looking at how to develop habitats and grow food."
Stennis employs about 1,870 people, both federal civil service and contract workers, with about 2,000 additional U.S. Navy personnel. Two-thirds of the workforce is from Mississippi.
Gilbrech said the federal city has a $684 million economic impact within a 50-mile radius.
"We have a big impact locally, and we also have a big impact globally," he said.