On 7 February 2024, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena revealed plans to cut around 530 staff positions and terminate approximately 40 contractors as part of cost-saving measures.
About eight per cent of the lab’s workforce will be impacted. Laurie Leshin, director, JPL, announced the layoffs in a memo to employees, describing the move as the toughest of decisions the lab has had to make despite efforts to lower expenses in recent months.
The lab’s main focus is on building and running robotic spacecraft for planetary exploration, along with managing missions in Earth’s orbit and astronomy. Additionally, it operates NASA’s Deep Space Network.
This layoff decision faced criticism from California Congressional members across party lines, who urged the space agency to reconsider its actions.
The company mentioned that as the lab awaits funding confirmation from Congress for the Mars Sample Return mission, it has been under pressure to cut costs. This has led to a freeze on hiring, reduced contracts for some aspects of the mission, budget cuts, and the elimination of certain on-site contractors.
NASA informed JPL that it should anticipate a budget of $300 million for the Mars Sample Return mission, a significant decrease of 63 per cent from the previous year.
Employees who are laid off will receive their salary for 60 days and may also be eligible for severance packages. Additionally, they will receive transitional benefits such as help with placement services and access to other resources for support.