As of 12:00 am this morning, the American Government is offline. Federal employees, besides those deemed absolutely necessary to the essential operations of cabinet-level departments and federal agencies, have been furloughed indefinitely. Among the federal divisions deemed unessential during the shutdown is NASA. Here's a breakdown of how the Agency is weathering this governmental sh*tstorm (and on its birthday, no less).
Yesterday, Obama said NASA would "shut down almost entirely" if Congress failed to circumvent the budget impasse. That translates to all but a few hundred of the Agency's employees being put on furlough.
The government isn't so heartless as to leave Nyberg, Hopkins and their fellow space-farers fending for themselves up there. Of the few hundred NASA employees not on furlough, most of them will be working to support the astronauts aboard humanity's orbital outpost.
"To protect the life of the crew as well as the assets themselves, we would continue to support planned operations of the ISS during any funding hiatus," states NASA's contingency plan. "Moreover, NASA will be closely monitoring the impact of an extended shutdown to determine if crew transportation or cargo resupply services are required to mitigate imminent threats to life and property on the ISS or other areas."
Apparently, the Agency has decided to celebrate its 55th birthday by shutting down all websites hosted at the NASA.gov. Or rather, almost all of them...
As of this posting, the website for the very obviously NASA-affiliated Jet Propulsion Laboratory is still online. [UPDATE] The website features the following notice on its front page (see also the above screenshot):
"Due to the lapse in federal government funding, this website is not being updated. We also cannot respond to comments/questions. We sincerely regret this inconvenience."
JPL folks are making an illegal expenditure of tax funds to keep their overtly official NASA.gov website online. JPL is just another NASA contractor and bills NASA for everything eventually w/overhead - just like all of the other contractors. Why does JPL run things when other contractors are shut down? Guess they did not get the memo - or they just ignored it.
Sticking it to the man, huh? We like it. Other NASA project websites still online as of this posting:
Scientific spacecraft currently in operation will be maintained, and their data stored for later analysis. Just don't expect to hear anything about what they're up to:
"If a satellite mission has not yet been launched, work will generally cease on that project," states NASA's shutdown plan. "The extent of support necessary and the time needed to safely cease project activities will depend on whether any of the activities are of a hazardous nature (e.g., parts of the satellite may need to be cooled)."
Among the missions that could be affected: MAVEN. The next big mission to Mars, the MAVEN orbiter designed to study the disappearance of Mars's atmosphere from the planet's orbit. According to Dwane Brown, Senior Public Affairs Officer at NASA, " "a shutdown could delay the pre-launch processing currently under way with a possible impact to the scheduled Nov. 18 launch date."
That's VERY bad news. Launch opportunities to Mars only come around once every 26 months or so, and remain open for a very short time window. If MAVEN misses this launch window (which spans from November 18th to December 7th), it'll have to wait for the next opportunity in early 2016, costing NASA's already cash-strapped Planetary Science Division tens of millions of dollars.
The Twitter account for NASA's Near Earth Object Office, which orchestrates the Agency's efforts to identify and track potentially hazardous near-Earth objects, is officially offline:
After Twitter devolved into hysterics over its initial announcement, @AsteroidWatch quickly clarified:
Among those astronomers and observatories: the non-government organization Minor Plant Center (which manages worldwide observations of asteroids and comets), which had this to say of the shutdown:
Hear, hear, Minor Planet Center. Hear, hear.