As politicians in D.C. do their best to end the government shutdown that started on Friday, plans for space exploration go on — sort of.
Government functions that are not funded through the appropriations process, like the U.S. Postal Service, Social Security, and Medicare will continue, as well as activities that are funded by outside fees or are otherwise considered to be “essential.”
This is confirmed by an FAQ from NASA, which says that employees should stay at home during a government shutdown unless they receive alternative guidance.
Operations that fall under this category include the military, NOAA’s National Weather Service, and NASA’s operation of the International Space Station (ISS). The space walk by NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei and Scott Tingle, scheduled for Tuesday, will go on as planned, but if the shutdown continues into next week, they may not be broadcast because NASA TV is likely not considered mission essential.
Zeb Scoville, NASA’s spacewalk flight director, explained in a press conference on Thursday that both ISS crew members as well ground support staff, from engineers to mission control, will continue in the job “to make sure we’re both meeting the program’s objectives but also making sure we’re keeping the crew members safe there and giving them the support they need.”
SpaceX’s operations, meanwhile, have already been affected. An engine test on the SpaceX triple-core Falcon Heavy rocket that it aimed to carry out on Monday will be pushed back. While the company does not depend on government funding, the Kennedy Space Center, where the test would be carried out, does.
Additionally, the Air Force’s 45th Space Wing, which oversees launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, will be “ unable to support launch operations” without “key members of the civilian workforce”, as it told The Verge.
If the shutdown continues, it may affect the launch of a SpaceX communications satellite, originally scheduled for January 30, from Cape Canaveral.
Space Policy Online has a full list of events for this week — though basically everything is tentative until further notice.
So, to our government leaders in DC, we say, for the love of space, can you figure this out, please?!