Hercules Aerospace's Titan IV production line has temporarily curtailed work during an Air Force investigation of the explosion of the Magna-built Titan IV upgrade motor a week ago.

However, "Hercules has not stopped work on the Titan IV rocket motor program," said Bill Hawkesworth, director of public affairs for the company. "We are continuing work on the Titan IV program, and we only intend to temporarily curtail work that could be directly affected by the Air Force investigation in the cause of the incident."During a static test firing at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., the 112-foot motor exploded spectacularly. The Air Force appointed an investigative team, which includes experts from the military; the prime contractor, Martin Marietta, Denver; and Hercules.

Normally, in a situation like this, the production line would be shut down, Hawkesworth said. "Until you find out the cause of that failure, you certainly don't want to be repeating that failure."

Hercules is considering temporary furloughs of some workers on the Titan IV production line. Under furloughs, workers usually retain benefits like insurance, but don't get separation pay like those who are laid off.

During a major streamlining effort that started last year, the company has been laying off employees and giving others early retirements. Both at the Bacchus Works rocket plant and the Clearfield graphite fiber facility, employees have lost their jobs. "Between attrition and RIFs (reductions in force), it's 570, approximately," Hawkesworth said.

The latest 120 layoffs were announced on Monday. But he stressed that the jobs were eliminated as part of a long-standing program to make Hercules more competitive, and that the layoffs had nothing to do with the Titan IV motor explosion.

"It was just total happenstance that (the latest layoffs) came out the same time," he said. "It just so happens that this is a strange coincidence."

As far as the furloughs are concerned, "we're talking about a lot of different things, and decisions haven't been made yet," he said. Not all aspects of the Titan IV work will be shut down.