20 lose jobs with Hubble

July 15, 1994|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Sun Staff Writer

NASA budget cuts cost 20 people their jobs this week at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, and the

institute's director says a $10 million boost for the program approved in Washington yesterday is unlikely to get them back.

The astronomers, computer programmers, engineers and clerical personnel working with the Hubble Space Telescope got the bad news on Tuesday.

The downsizing has reduced the institute's work force to 375. In all, 60 jobs have been lost at the institute in the last 18 months, a 13 percent reduction.

Robert E. Williams, the institute's director, said the cuts already have affected Hubble's science mission. Further cuts "would be really unhealthy for the astrophysics program," he said.

Yesterday's approval of an additional $10 million for Hubble mission operations and data analysis came from the Senate Appropriations Committee. The money was requested by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, the Maryland Democrat who chairs a key subcommittee with NASA oversight.

Dr. Williams, while grateful, said the money is probably too little, too late to reverse the personnel cuts. Nor was it clear how much of the $10 million would go to the institute on the Homewood campus of the Johns Hopkins University, which represents about 15 percent of the Hubble project.

"That is a matter for negotiation and discussion," he said.

He was unable to say whether the new appropriation would avert future layoffs or cuts in the Hubble program, which NASA has begun to consider.

Budget pressure

NASA has been under budget pressure from Congress for months, and the agency's shuttle, planetary, space station and space science programs have all felt the heat.

NASA budget cuts have cost the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt the equivalent of 173 full-time jobs since 1992, a 4 percent cut, a spokesman said.

All the cuts were handled through attrition. Another 200 are expected to be lost by 1999.

In Baltimore, the space telescope institute's budget has been cut from $39.7 million in fiscal 1994 to $35.6 in fiscal 1995, Dr. Williams said.

In addition to the personnel cuts, Dr. Williams said, "we've cut down a lot on hardware acquisition, some sub-contracts and work orders."

"We're trying to make our actions as transparent to [Hubble] users as possible," he said. Nevertheless, "our ability to respond to problems with the telescope has already diminished. Our ability to provide data reduction [processing] support to astronomers is diminished. Our ability to calibrate various instruments and understand them has decreased."

Hubble's success

The cuts come just as December's successful Hubble repair mission has begun to pay off with a succession of remarkable discoveries.

In May, NASA officials announced Hubble's greatest discovery to date, the first conclusive evidence for the existence of a black hole, in the giant M87 galaxy.

And beginning this weekend, Hubble should provide scientists with their best views of the collision of a comet with the planet Jupiter.

To help build public support for NASA's astronomy program, six of the institute employees whose jobs were cut were reassigned to an enlarged "public outreach" program. They will help produce more Hubble-related lectures, teacher training, educational materials and planetarium shows.

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