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Budget Crunch Forces JPL to Lay Off Hundreds

FEB 09, 2024
A potential steep budget cut to the Mars Sample Return mission has prompted the lab to lay off over 500 employees.
Will Thomas
Spencer R. Weart Director of Research in History, Policy, and Culture
jpl-buildings-image.jpg

Buildings at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California.

(NASA / JPL-Caltech)

The Caltech-operated Jet Propulsion Laboratory reported on Feb. 6 that it is laying off 530 employees, about 8% of its in-house workforce, as well as 40 contractor employees on top of the 100 it let go earlier this year. These moves were spurred by tight funding constraints on the flagship Mars Sample Return mission, which the lab is developing for NASA.

MSR’s annual appropriation has been held at $822 million under the stopgap measure currently funding NASA, but the agency instructed JPL to plan around Senate appropriators’ proposed level of $300 million for all of fiscal year 2024, which is now more than one-third over.

The proposed cut is a response to steep growth in MSR’s projected cost, and last fall NASA officials began considering ways to make its mission architecture more viable. Congress’ delayed final appropriations package could include more money for MSR, but that would likely be at the expense of other missions in NASA’s science portfolio.

The layoffs represent a striking turnabout for JPL, which last year scrambled to expand its workforce to alleviate strains stemming from the expansiveness of its project portfolio.

Beyond the MSR situation, JPL’s Psyche asteroid mission has since then successfully launched and the lab’s development work on the flagship Europa Clipper mission is winding down as its fall launch date approaches.

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