(HOUSTON) — The ripple effects of the government shutdown are reveberating into outer space.
NASA has 18,250 civil servants around the country, and the furlough means 90 percent are now sitting at home wondering what will happen at next.
Visiting nasa.gov redirects users to a placeholder screen, saying that the website is not available, “due to the lapse in federal government funding.” The Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s website still functions, but will not be updated. “We also cannot respond to comments/questions. We sincerely regret this inconvenience,” adds JPL.
ABC News reached out to its press contacts and sources involved at NASA but only received an automated response in reply. “I am in furlough status; therefore, I am unable to respond to your message at this time,” wrote one employee.
A major Mars project, the MAVEN spacecraft, may need to wait for a long time if the shutdown isn’t resolved quickly. There is only a two-week window every two and a half years where the spacecraft has a straight shot of traveling from Earth to Mars. If MAVEN doesn’t launch by Dec. 7, it won’t be able to launch again until 2016.
Erika Lamberth is a contract worker at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. She said she loves her job and is proud to be part of the space program, but now she’s afraid of what will happen next. “What does this mean for us who go to work every day, who have families and bills to pay?” she told ABC News. “We have a space program that we love and we want to work. When are we going to come back to work?”
While the majority of NASA employees haven’t been able to work, it doesn’t mean that all space-related activities have ground to a halt. Mission Control still has a team of flight controllers assisting in current NASA projects. Astronauts Karen Nyberg and Mike Hopkins, currently aboard the International Space Station, will still get a paycheck when they return back to Earth. Astronauts on Earth will need to sit tight though, as training for the next space station crew has stopped because of the government shutdown.
Engineers at JPL and other space centers are providing continuous support for NASA’s various spacecraft exploring the universe. The Mars Curiosity Rover, the Voyager probes, and several other spacecraft heading to other planets in the solar system are still in operation.
“Because the Jet Propulsion Laboratory is operated by the California Institute of Technology as a contractor, JPL employees are reporting to work as usual, and Mars rover operations are continuing,” a spokesman for JPL told ABC News. “Any changes to this status will be assessed on a week by week basis as events unfold.”
The space agency is already at a crossroads — fighting the public perception that since the space shuttles were retired and layoffs hit the agency that there is no manned space program anymore. Employees aren’t too surprised that commercialized space flight is seeming like a more viable alternative to the public.
“If government can’t function, no wonder people are more interested in private space exploration with companies like SpaceX and Cygnus,” said one NASA employee at the Johnson Space Center.
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