PROMONTORY -- U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, delivered a pep talk Friday to about 500 Alliant Techsystems employees, saying their work in advancing space exploration and national security is vital.
"Very few people in the world have more influence than you," he told ATK workers during a meeting at the company's headquarters. "It's the basis of tremendous protection for our nation."
The meeting was aimed at boosting the spirits of ATK employees who have watched as the company's Utah workforce has been reduced by about 50 percent since 2009, largely due to the end of the U.S. space shuttle program.
"There's been a lot of angst (among ATK) employees," said Trina Patterson, a spokeswoman for ATK. The company currently has about 2,400 workers in Utah.
ATK was the prime contractor for the solid rocket booster motor that lifted space shuttles into space for more than 30 years.
The final mission flown by shuttle Atlantis was launched July 8 and landed July 21. ATK is now looking for other uses and customers for its booster motors, which were the major job of the ATK facility in Promontory, 30 miles west of Brigham City.
Hatch also said it's "pitiful" that U.S. astronauts have to hitch rides aboard Russian rockets to reach the space station because the space shuttle program has been scuttled.
Hatch helped write legislation that establishes payload requirements for a new government-owned space launch system that industry leaders have said can only be realistically met with the use of solid rocket motors like those built by ATK.
ATK is currently involved in efforts to win the contract to supply those motors,
Hatch told ATK workers Friday he's committed to making sure the federal government complies with the legislation he helped author requiring the use of solid rocket motors in the SLS.
"I am trying to do everything I can to keep it viable," he said.
Hatch also said President Obama's administration has timid leaders at NASA, hampering the nation's space exploration program.
"We've got to have better leadership than what's involved in the space program," he said. "I would like to see a more aggressive approach."
Sarah Hiza, director of research operations for ATK, said she is pleased that Hatch is committed to the company's solid rocket motor program and space exploration.
"It's cautiously encouraging," she said.