Science & Astronomy
1. October 2013

Today, NASA is 55 years old – the National Aeronautics and Space Administration became operational on October 1st, 1958 and back then there were not many other space agencies around. Today, almost every country of the world has one and there have been many groundbreaking achievements by all of them – but NASA has every reason to be proud of itself. For the anniversary, NASA has posted a kind of laundry list of what has been made possible in the last 55 years. It’s not just Apollo, Space Shuttle and the space stations – from the beginning, NASA has always been and always will be about understanding the nature of the universe.

But what does NASA get for its birthday? It gets shut down!

Yes, that’s right – the US government shutdown also affects NASA. If you thought the sequester was bad, this is nearly end-times armageddon: NASA will stop just about everything except the bare necessities. Universe Today and Bad Astronomy have detailed articles about the situation, which is nothing short of unbelievable: 97% of all employees are being furloughed, meaning being sent home without pay. The rest also will have to work without pay to keep the shop running, which means keeping contact with the space station, controlling robotic missions and other essential things. On a more positive note, Emily Lakdawalla from the Planetary Society has said in an article that everything controlled from JPL and APL, which are private companies under NASA contract, will continue, which means that the initial news that the Mars rovers are going to be put in hibernation was false. But all scienctific operations at NASA have ceased and there is danger that future missions, like the coming launch of the MAVEN Mars orbiter, will be severely affected if they, like in this case, miss a launch window or worse.

Also, as of only a couple of hours ago, all the NASA websites have been taken down and redirect to a status page. NASA TV has also ceased broadcasting, and all NASA public outreach and education activity even on social media has stopped completely. Space journalist Amy Shira Teitel has called this an information black hole for space news, and she’s absolutely right – this is taxpayer-funded information, which should be accessible to everybody regardless of funding. Stopping to update the websites is one thing, taking them offline altogether is a whole new dimension – but I can imagine that NASA has done this not out of malice, but to show how essential they really are. The government shutdown could not have come at a worse time for NASA and it shows the utter disregard of a certain political party for everything which has remotely to do with science.

Of course, the government shutdown does not only affect NASA, but an unbelievable amount of people, institutions and services. Zoos, national parks and everything else not in private hands will simply cease to function, hundreds of thousands of people are not getting paid – something which is completely and utterly unbelievable from an European perspective. I think Pamela Gay’s posting on Google+ sums the situation up very well and I can’t possibly add anything more to it except… this is total madness. And that’s about as political as it’ll ever get on my websites.

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