NASA lays off 530 workers at Jet Propulsion Lab, endangering future space missions

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a memo Tuesday that it is laying off approximately 570 workers because it still does not have a federally approved budget for the 2024 fiscal year for its Mars Sample Return mission. JPL Director Laurie Leshin said the lack of Congressional appropriations has also endangered the agency’s (MSR) missions. 530 staff employees will be cut, accounting for about 8% of the lab’s workforce, along with 40 contractors. The announcement follows a wave of previous contractor cuts earlier in the month. The JPL said it dealt with a lack of funding approval ahead of the Tuesday layoffs by anticipating a 63% decrease from its FY2023 MSR budget (roughly consistent with Congressional markups), per NASA direction, and cutting costs elsewhere: a hiring freeze, reduced MSR contracts, and cuts to internal “burden budgets.” 

“Unfortunately, those actions alone are not enough for us to make it through the remainder of the fiscal year. So in the absence of an appropriation, and as much as we wish we didn’t need to take this action, we must now move forward to protect against even deeper cuts later were we to wait,” Leshin said in a memo to staff. “To adjust to the much lower MSR budget levels in NASA’s direction to us, we must reduce our workforce in both technical and support areas of the Lab, and across different organizations …. Given the challenge and scale of this workforce action, our approach has prioritized minimizing stress by notifying everyone quickly whether they are impacted or not.”

Layoffs will take place Wednesday during a mandatory remote-work day. In the memo, employees were informed that after a company-wide virtual workforce update meeting, each individual would receive an email telling them whether they had been laid off. Leshin advised laid-off workers to “forward this email to their personal email account immediately, as NASA requires that access to JPL systems be shut off very shortly following the notification.” 

This story has been updated to clarify the specific portion of JPL’s budget awaiting Congressional approval. 


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