Events, NASA, Other, Pentagon

Shutdown effects percolate through the space community

As the federal government shutdown enters its second week, the focus of the space-related impacts of the lapse in appropriations has been on NASA, who was forced to furlough about 97 percent of its employees and, temporarily, suspended preparations for the time-sensitive launch of the MAVEN Mars orbiter. Those furloughs have forced NASA to maintain radio silence, even as another mission, LADEE, successfully entered lunar orbit early Sunday.

The effects of the shutdown, though, go beyond shuttered websites and furloughed workers at NASA. Several conferences and meetings were forced to scramble after NASA and other federal employees were unable to attend because of the shutdown. According to reports, about 10 percent of the estimated 600 registered attendees of this week’s American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences conference could not attend due to the shutdown (more may have wanted to attend but couldn’t register at all due to earlier sequestration-related restrictions). That forced organizers to, among other things, revamp the “agency night” during the conference since none of the planned NASA or NSF speakers could attend. The “other” AAS, the American Astronautical Society, has also had to make changes to its Von Braun Symposium this week in Huntsville after NASA speakers had to back out. (The first morning of the conference, on Tuesday, will be webcast.)

While most NASA centers have all but closed, with only a handful of essential personnel reporting for work, JPL remains open as its staff are employees of Caltech and not NASA. JPL will be reassessing its situation on a weekly basis as the shutdown continues. On Friday, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), which had kept its federally-funded radio telescopes open for the first few days of the shutdown, closed its telescopes in New Mexico and West Virginia and its Virginia headquarters. And management of the giant Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico is planning to furlough all its employees in the middle of this month if the shutdown continues. The HiRISE experiment on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), run out of the University of Arizona, said today via Twitter that the spacecraft has enough funds on hand to operate through the end of the month. “Don’t know what happens after that if shutdown not resolved by then.”

The shutdown has also forced the FAA to cancel this week’s meetings of its Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee in Washington. While the COMSTAC webpage has not been updated since the shutdown began, COMSTAC chairman Mike Gold of Bigelow Aerospace confirmed late Monday that twice-yearly meeting won’t take place this week. COMSTAC, he said, would wait until after the shutdown ends before evaluating what kind of replacement meeting, if any, they would hold.

The shutdown’s effects are making their way into businesses. On Friday, Lockheed Martin said it would furlough 3,000 employees on Monday because of the shutdown, adding that additional employees would be furloughed as the shutdown continued. Lockheed Martin revised that number on Monday down to 2,400 employees, most of which work on unidentified “civilian agency programs.” On Monday, the Aerospace Corporation announced it was furloughing almost 60 percent of its 3,500 employees because of stop work orders imposed by the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center.

Other than those furloughs, most military space programs have been largely unaffected by the shutdown because of their essential nature. On Saturday, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced most furloughed civilian workers would return to work this week provided their activities “contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of service members.” There have been a few other effects: late last week DARPA postponed an industry day for its Experimental Spaceplane program that was scheduled to take place Monday.

Leave a Reply




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>