Hancock County, Miss - NASA has consolidated three contracts at Stennis Space Center and that has resulted in the elimination of 129 contractor positions. The goal is to create efficiencies that are vital to its mission to Mars.
"To me, it's another step in the continuing exploration outward. It's the best possible place to set up a habitat," said former Apollo 13 astronaut Fred Haise, a Mississippi native.
But as it moves ahead, NASA has announced a shakeup in the way it operates the Stennis rocket testing facility in Hancock County and the Michoud rocket plant in New Orleans East.
"If we're going to go to Mars in the 2030s, we have to change the way we're operating and we have to be more efficient," said Randy Galloway, the deputy director of Stennis.
Three operational contracts have now been combined into one, called Synergy consolidated operations. The new contract merges activities at Stennis and Michoud.
"In my experience in working for a government agency for many years, contract changes are common," said John Wilson, the head of the Stennis Infiniti Visitors Center.
"By reducing overhead and duplicate business functions, the new contractor is able to perform the same functions with 17 percent fewer workers," Stennis Director Richard Gilbrech said.
Haise worked for a space contractor after he left NASA, and he said job consolidations are part of the game. He said displaced workers usually get picked back up.
"On service contracts, you always want about 80 to 85 percent of the ongoing skill, so you retain the corporate memory so you don't have an interruption in your operations," said Haise.
Haise said more efficiencies are needed to fully develop a Mars lander, which needs a lot more work.
"There are more components that are not yet funded," said Haise.
At the Infiniti Center, the hope is to take full advantage of the learning experience offered when Mars rocket testing begins.
"One of the ideas is mounting a camera on a tower, so our visitors here can see a test in the visitor center," said Wilson.
Tests could begin as early as this fall.
Meg Manthey, a spokeswoman for the new NASA contractor Syncom, said 98 percent of the employees hired under the new contract previously worked for the old contractor.