Silent Rockets

Pratt & Whitney, maker of many of the rocket engines used for US space launch vehicles, will begin laying off workers “in four to eight months” unless it has some solid direction from the government about the nation’s future space plans, said Jim Maser, head of Pratt’s Rocketdyne division. “Until we know where the country’s going in space, we’re not going to make a huge investment” in the rocket industrial base, Maser said at a Pratt media event in West Palm Beach, Fla., last week. “We are spending our own money” maintaining manufacturing capability, but “we can’t continue to do that indefinitely,” he said. If Rocketdyne has to start powering down—because of no clear future business—it would be a “significant waste,” said Maser. “It wouldn’t be a total dismantling [of liquid-fueled rocket-building capacity], but it would be an unnecessary loss of critical skills that would have to be rebuilt” if the government decides it wants a healthy space program after all, he added. The retirement of the space shuttle before its successor system is in hand creates “a gap that will create significant challenges to the industrial base,” said Maser.