Note: I am posting this because I want people to see a realistic view of things at NASA, not a sugar-coated version. This is as real as it gets.
This week I volunteered for an upcoming layoff from my job as a space shuttle technician. I will be leaving after 8.5 years of service on October 1st, 2010. Since many people would give their right arm to work on the shuttle program, you might think I’m crazy to volunteer for this. Leaving the shuttle program is a tough decision for sure, but it really isn’t a matter of if, only when. I am not choosing to leave, I am just choosing the time it will happen. Ultimately, the vast majority of shuttle workers will be let go. So why go before I am forced? Here’s an explanation so you can see it from my perspective.
One of the biggest reasons I am taking this layoff is that it will allow me to plan for my future. It is nearly impossible to make plans or look for a new job when you have no idea when your end date at work will be or what the future holds. We hear a different story every week about what is happening with the program, or with our benefits/severance. The uncertainty is exhausting. I’m not blaming my management for this- I think they are in the same boat. By volunteering for this layoff, I now know what is going to happen to me and when. Crazy as it seems, that feels good. Now I can start figuring out a good strategy to move forward.
Along the same lines, morale was a big push for me to self-nominate for this layoff. You can’t imagine what it is like to be at work surrounded by constant doom and gloom, now with a dash of panic. It is not pretty. Once the people who are to be laid off involuntarily are notified- which will be at the end of July- I expect that it will be even worse. As far as the work goes, we are finishing up with Discovery’s right OMS Pod now, and will deliver it for reinstallation this week. After that I have a few thrusters to bench test for Atlantis, which is being processed for launch on need (in case of emergency). Once that is complete, the bulk of the work we will have left in my area is decontamination of our facility for shutdown, or Transition & Retirement as NASA likes to call it. I started working on the shuttle program because I wanted to contribute to something incredible, human space exploration. I don’t find decontamination and shutdown very inspirational. In fact, it is downright depressing. For many workers, it is just a job and they don’t care what goal they’re working towards as long as they are paid. To me, it makes a difference, and I would much rather try to find work I can feel good about again.
Other reasons for taking this layoff are more practical than emotional. Leaving early gives me a better chance of finding a new job or pursuing other options because the market won’t be flooded with thousands of others doing the same. Also, it makes sense for my particular situation, because my husband works on the shuttle program as well. He will have work to do up until the last launch because he works at the launch pad. We figure that it will be best for us to take a phased approach rather than both being laid off at the same time. This way, hopefully I can get something figured out and can carry him once his job is complete, sometime next year.
So, that’s basically it. This is the reality of the situation. It is sad to see it coming to an end, but it is also a new beginning in so many ways. I am hopeful for the future of NASA, it just isn’t quite ready for me yet, so I’ll make my exit now, gracefully. I’m not looking for sympathy; I’m not feeling sorry for myself and you shouldn’t feel sorry for me either! I am looking for my next great adventure, whatever it may be…