HOUSTON - On the last space shuttle mission, the astronauts whispered among themselves that they didn't recognize any of the once-familiar voices from Mission Control. "Everybody was new," said Commander Noah Swayne. "And they all had accents," he looked around furtively and whispered, "like they weren't from around here. Frankly I got the sense they were reading from a script when I asked them for help about something."
The mystery has been solved. NASA admitted today that Mission Control was outsourced to India in the spring of 2005 in a move designed to save more than $800 million annually.
In an interview conducted in the the four-tier auditorium that formerly housed Mission Control at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, NASA director Bradleys Roadhouse justified the outsourcing decision. The auditorium is now the storage room for the Space Center's flourecent light bulbs and cleaning products.
"Exactly what is Mission Control anyway?" Roadhouse asked rhetorically. "It's a help desk. And anyone who owns a Dell Computer, or countless other products, knows that the help desk people in India do a crackerjack job."
But Commander Swayne wonders if the space program hasn't lost something. "All I can tell you is that [on the last flight] we had a problem where the space craft starting spinning out of control, so I asked Mission Control what to do. Somebody who said his name was 'James,' who by the way I could barely understand, told me to turn off the engine for fifteen seconds and then restart it. Well, I knew I shouldn't have listened to him, but I shut down and sure enough we started hurling toward earth. Fortunately, I was able to fix it myself. A couple of days later, I had a temperature problem so I called down and spoke to someone who said her name was 'Alison.' And, damn, wouldn't you know it, she gave me the exact same useless advice."
The move to India is part of a wider government effort to save labor costs by shifting as much overseas as possible. The Office of Management and Budget is currently conducting a study to calculate possible savings by outsourcing Congress to New Delhi.