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NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is laying off 570 workers

You can thank Congress for not yet finalizing the agency's annual budget.


Even NASA is not immune to layoffs. The agency says it's cutting around 530 employees from its Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California amid budget uncertainty. That's eight percent of the facility's workforce. JPL is laying off about 40 contractors too, just weeks after imposing a hiring freeze and canning 100 other contractors. Workers are being informed of their fates today.

"After exhausting all other measures to adjust to a lower budget from NASA, and in the absence of an FY24 appropriation from Congress, we have had to make the difficult decision to reduce the JPL workforce through layoffs," NASA said in a statement spotted by Gizmodo. "The impacts will occur across both technical and support areas of the Lab. These are painful but necessary adjustments that will enable us to adhere to our budget allocation while continuing our important work for NASA and our nation."

Uncertainty over the final budget that Congress will allocate to NASA for 2024 has played a major factor in the cuts. It's expected that the agency will receive around $300 million for Mars Sample Return (MSR), an ambitious mission in which NASA plans to launch a lander and orbiter to the red planet in 2028 and bring back soil. In its 2024 budget proposal, NASA requested just under $950 million for the project.

“While we still do not have an FY24 appropriation or the final word from Congress on our Mars Sample Return (MSR) budget allocation, we are now in a position where we must take further significant action to reduce our spending,” JPL Director Laurie Leshin wrote in a memo. "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."

NASA has yet to provide a full cost estimate for MSR, though an independent report pegged the price at between $8 billion and $11 billion. In its proposed 2024 budget, the Senate Appropriations subcommittee ordered NASA to submit a year-by-year funding plan for MSR. If the agency does not do so, the subcommittee warned that the mission could be canceled.

That's despite MSR having enjoyed success so far. The Perseverance rover has dug up some soil samples that contain evidence of organic matter and would warrant closer analysis were NASA able to bring them back to Earth. The samples could help scientists learn more about Mars, such as whether the planet ever hosted life.