97% Of NASA Falls To Government Shutdown
Today, the US government rolled out mass closures thanks to what can only be described as a ridiculous stand-off between the two houses of Congress. For government departments across the country, this means the suspension of services and masses of employees being put out on furlough and on this, it's 55th birthday, the closures hit NASA as well.
A startling 97% of NASA's 18,000+ employees have been forced out on furloughs, with only the most essential operations avoiding the cut. So what does this mean for humans here on Earth as well as up there in space?
Business As Usual:
Two of the NASA employees still at work are astronauts Karen Nyberg and Mike Hopkins who continue their operations way up there on the International Space Station. They won't be bobbing around up there with no support though, as NASA's Mission Control in Houston remains online to support all space-faring operations. Indeed, Mission Control staff make up the vast majority of those who have avoided being stuck out on furlough, due in non small part to NASA's contingency plan, which states "To protect the life of crew as well as the assets themselves, we would continue to support planned operations of the ISS during any funding hiatus".
So the fine men and women of the International Space Station are safe, but what about the civilians of Earth? Well, if you thought that a government shutdown would leave us exposed to an apocalyptic asteroid strike, fear not, because despite the shutdowns there are still many astronomers and observatories keeping their eyes on the skies, this is despite the fact that the government's Asteroid Watch is actually offline, leaving our safety in the hands of private enterprises.
While we won't get any updates on their work, NASA's fine fleet of scientific spacecraft have not shut down either. The likes of Cassini and the two Voyager craft are still collecting data...there's just nobody in the office to actually do anything with it.
So that's the good news. But, as we mentioned before, 97% of NASA's employees are not at work, so there are certain to be many casualties across the agency. Below are just a few of the areas impacted...
Unlike the scientific spacecraft, NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover has not survived the cuts and currently sits in 'protective mode' on the surface of Mars.
NASA.gov and everything affiliated with the agency's website is offline. The NASA affiliated Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) website remains defiantly online, although upon visiting the site, you are greeted with a message warning that there will be no updates appearing online until the government shutdown is resolved.
As we mentioned before, if we're about to get pummeled by a storm of asteroids, don't expect the warning to come from NASA's Asteroid Watch because this potentially life-saving department has not avoided the cuts.
All Future Missions
"If a satellite mission has not yet been launched, work will generally cease on that project" so says the NASA guidelines for potential shutdowns. The upshot of this could be a nightmare for NASA operations should we see an extended shutdown, with the upcoming launch preparations for the Mars Atmosphere And Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) Orbiter in line to become one of the biggest casualties. Should MAVEN's launch prep get delayed, the orbiter could miss it's launch slot, which for voyages to Mars, only come around once every 2 years or so.