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Worker falls to his death at Kennedy Space Center, NASA says

By Rich Phillips, CNN
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Space center worker falls to his death
  • NEW: NASA spokesman: "Nothing major, no hazardous operation (was) taking place"
  • Swing-arm engineer was found on another level of launch pad, his employer says
  • The contract worker fell while preparing space shuttle Endeavour for its final flight
  • Counseling and assistance are being provided to workers, NASA says

(CNN) -- A space shuttle contract worker fell to his death Monday morning while working at the launch pad, preparing the space shuttle Endeavour for its final flight, according to a NASA official.

United Space Alliance, the prime contractor for the U.S. space shuttle program, said in a press release that the victim was one of its employees, James Vanover.

"He fell at the pad, and NASA emergency medical personnel responded but were unable to revive him," said Kennedy Space Center spokeswoman Candrea Thomas.

Vanover was a swing-arm engineer, United Space Alliance spokeswoman Kari Fluegel said. He supported work on the gaseous oxygen vent hood as well as the orbiter access arm, which is the passageway through which astronauts enter the space shuttle.

Relatives told CNN affiliate WKMG that Vanover had worked for 30 years at the Kennedy Space Center and had a new job lined up after he was to be laid off, along with many others affiliated with the space shuttle program, in the coming weeks.

Fluegel said the man's body was found on another level of Launch Pad 39A at the space hub in northeast Florida. NASA has not indicated what caused him to fall.

"The incident is under investigation," Thomas said. "As of right now, all work at the pad has been suspended for the day while we investigate what happened."

Allard Beutell, a NASA spokesman, told WKMG that "other than the fact it is a dangerous environment, there was nothing major, no hazardous operation taking place. It wasn't like they were fueling up the shuttle -- it was nothing like that."

Counseling and employee assistance are being provided to Kennedy Space Center workers, NASA said.

Virginia Barnes, the CEO of the United Space Alliance, offered her "heartfelt sympathy" to Vanover's family.

"Our focus right now is on providing support for his families and for his coworkers," she said in a press release.

Endeavour is scheduled to blast off on its final mission April 19.