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A NASA flight engineer fixes a pump on the International Space Station.

Space station support crew would be among the few NASA workers still at work.

Photograph from NASA/Reuters

Dan Vergano

National Geographic

Published October 1, 2013

Happy birthday, NASA. Now take today off. It may be the first of many such days, thanks to the federal government shutdown.

As NASA celebrates the 55th anniversary of the start of its formal operations on October 1, 1958, roughly 97 percent of its workers are out on furlough today. They join thousands of other federal employees facing furloughs, with possible lost pay, due to the U.S. government shutdown resulting from Congress failing to approve a budget for federal agencies.

At the high-profile space agency, mentioned by President Barack Obama in a Monday speech warning of the consequences of the stop in federal activities, the effects have been quickly felt. Websites for most of the agency's centers have become unavailable (except the site for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, apparently), NASA alerts of dangerous asteroids have halted, and the November 18 launch of the MAVEN space mission to Mars may be delayed.

"NASA will shut down almost entirely, but Mission Control will remain open to support the astronauts serving on the Space Station," Obama said in his speech.

While Congress bickers, the 20-day launch window for the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN) draws closer. The MAVEN spacecraft is an orbiter that will probe the Martian atmosphere.

"The worse-case scenario is that MAVEN misses its launch opportunity to Mars," writes the Planetary Society's Casey Dreier. Launch windows to Mars—when Earth's orbit aligns with the red planet's, enabling a lower-cost trip—come around only once every 26 months. "If MAVEN cannot launch in time, it will have to wait for the next opportunity in early 2016, a delay that would cost NASA's Planetary Science Division tens of millions of dollars it cannot afford," Dreier says.

Elsewhere at the space agency, the effects of the shutdown will become worse over time, says Keith Cowing of NASA Watch: "If they only lose a few days, then we lose a week of work, but over time there will be a satellite that has a problem or a design change that doesn't get fixed in time and we will see real impacts."

Cowing suggests that shutting down the NASA websites immediately is a bit of an attention-grabbing device by the space agency, rather than a real necessity. "One thing to keep in mind is that the earlier federal sequester has already disrupted travel and a lot of planning at NASA already," says Cowing. "I think a lot of NASA employees are looking at this as just another burden, saying, 'Enough already. What's next?'"

Follow Dan Vergano on Twitter.

4 comments
ZEINEB MESSAOUDI
ZEINEB MESSAOUDI

la nasa devrait être plus indépendante que ça. ils doivent réclamer des subventions d'autre organismes que l'état , et ne pas dépendre du bon vouloir de quelques politiciens que ce soit 

Mary Waterton
Mary Waterton

The federal employees at the Obamacare Exchange have not been furloughed. Seems that Obama and Reid can find plenty of money when they want to.

LM Bowland
LM Bowland

Maybe it's time to start an International Space Agency, funded publicly by the world and cannot be closed down by any one country.

Bickering only takes us back to the Neolithic, folks.

John C.
John C.

Cowing suggests that shutting down the NASA websites immediately is a bit of an attention-grabbing device by the space agency, rather than a real necessity

------------

Ya think?

The world didn't end with the sequester. A government shut down is not noticed by 99% of the population, which begs the obvious question. 

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