The glitter has rubbed off the job of working at the Johnson Space Center, which has always been the Camelot of the space business because that is where the nation's astronauts work and live.
The glamor began to fade last July when the space shuttle Challenger rode into orbit on two engines instead of three.
"Abort to orbit," it was called at the time. The pressure of the investigation of why one of Challenger's main engines had failed on liftoff triggered the resignation of Flight Director Cleon Lacefield.
"He just up and quit and went to California," one of Lacefield's friends said the other day. "He didn't even have another job to go to."
Lacefield was not the only one to leave Camelot. Shuttle Program Manager Glynn S. Lunney quit to take a job at Rockwell International Corp. and former flight director Neil Hutchinson, still head of the Space Station Task Force here, has asked to be reassigned. "For personal reasons," is the answer to the question of why.
No fewer than five astronauts have left the program in the last six months. One was John M. Fabian, who quit even though he had been assigned a mission this May to carry the Galileo spacecraft into orbit on the first leg of its planned mission to the planet Jupiter, first interplanetary mission in which the space shuttle is to be involved.
"I quit because I had no home life left," Fabian said not long ago. "The pressure of training for a new flight right after I had completed my second flight just got to be too much."
The most difficult resignation was that of Gerald D. Griffin, who stepped down Jan. 4 as director of the center. Griffin is now executive director of the Houston Chamber of Commerce, a job former Houston mayor Louis Welch used to have.
"This place is like a ship without a captain," said one space center engineer who asked not to be identified. "We could really use a center director like Gerry Griffin right now." (Jesse W. Moore, NASA's associate administrator for space flight, will take over as center director in May.)
The pressure of a stepped up shuttle launch schedule may have taken its toll in other ways.
Two weeks ago, engineer Dwayne Mosel, 45, died of a heart attack while taking a walk with his son. A fitness freak, Mosel had been replanning the 1986 shuttle launch schedule which had already been plagued with postponements. Friends say Mosel had been working around the clock since Christmas.
The aerospace contractor personnel have just been moved from Ford Aerospace & Communications Corp. and McDonnell Douglas Astronautics to Rockwell International, which won the contract to support Johnson Space Center operations.
The hundreds of engineers who had labored for Ford and McDonnell Douglas lost every day of retirement benefits they had accumulated in more than 10 years. They have begun work at Rockwell under a new retirement plan that gives them nothing for the time they put in over the last decade.