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Jason DavisEmily LakdawallaJanuary 22, 2018

Here's our rolling list of space things affected by the U.S. government shutdown

The U.S. federal government officially shut down at midnight Friday night, after Congressional leaders were unable to reach a deal on a spending bill. Hundreds of thousands of civil servants stayed home today as the workweek began. How long this will last is anyone's guess; an agreement could be reached today, or the shutdown could drag out indefinitely.

This, of course, affects NASA, which has more than 17,000 employees. NASA's shutdown plan is broad and leaves the details to individual centers, which are required to "provide for protection of life and property." 621 full-time equivalent employees are exempted from the shutdown, according to Friday's updated plan.

We're compiling a list outlining how major space-related programs and projects are affected by the shutdown. If you have any information to contribute, please feel free to send us an email.

International Space Station

The space station and its astronauts will not be impacted by the shutdown. ISS program manager Kenneth Todd said Thursday mission-critical personnel supporting station operations would report to work as usual. Two upcoming spacewalks, scheduled Jan. 23 and 29, are similarly unaffected.

SpaceX Falcon Heavy testing

The 45th Space Wing, which oversees the launch range at Cape Canaveral, must scale back for the shutdown. This will impact commercial operations, including SpaceX's Falcon Heavy work. As such, don't expect any static fires or commercial launches during the shutdown.

Confirmed: No SpaceX #FalconHeavy static test fire due to government shutdown. Same goes for launches.

Statement: “Due to the shutdown removing key members of the civilian workforce, the 45th Space Wing will not be able to support commercial static fires taking place on KSC.”

— Emre Kelly (@EmreKelly) January 21, 2018

From SpaceX. Falcon Heavy launch can't happen during a government shutdown.

— Jackie Wattles (@jackiewattles) January 22, 2018

James Webb Space Telescope

JWST is scheduled to launch in 2019. Goddard Space Flight Center, which manages the project, has the second-most employees exempted from furlough under NASA's shutdown plan (221; only Johnson Space Center, with 300, has more).

An email Friday to the JWST public affairs office went unreturned.

Parker Solar Probe

Goddard also manages Parker Solar Probe, which is scheduled to launch July 31. On January 19, the spacecraft started thermal vacuum chamber testing. Here's what a NASA public affairs officer told us Friday:

"All questions regarding possible impacts on NASA programs if a lapse of federal funding should be directed to the OMB communications office."

The OMB did not respond to our emails. 


The next NASA Mars lander is being prepared for launch out of Vandenberg Air Force Base on May 5, which is less than five months away. A JPL public affairs officer referred us to the OMB on Friday:

"All questions regarding possible impacts on NASA programs if a lapse of federal funding should be directed to the OMB communications office."

Regrettably, government institutions are developing experience with shutdowns, so NASA headquarters has clearly coordinated a more disciplined response to our inquiries than they have in the past! We did receive more information Friday from a public affairs officer at Lockheed:

"InSight is still at Lockheed Martin's Denver (Waterton) facility and if there's a shutdown we will be able to continue our work on the spacecraft. We're scheduled to ship it to California in late February."

Currently active robotic missions

During the last government shutdown in 2013, missions operated out of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Applied Physics Laboratory continued to operate normally, although scientists who are directly funded by the federal government (like those at the United States Geological Survey) could not participate in active roles on tactical operations planning. Those missions included:

JPL: Curiosity, Opportunity, Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Dawn, Juno, Spitzer, the Voyagers, NEOWISE, and many others.

APL: New Horizons and the Deep Space Network (JPL manages the DSN but it's subcontracted out to other entities for actual operation).

Public affairs

NASA's websites and social media accounts will fall silent during the shutdown. This morning, all NASA accounts began tweeting this message:

Sorry, but we won't be tweeting/responding to replies during the government shutdown. Also, all public NASA activities and events are cancelled or postponed until further notice. We'll be back as soon as possible! Sorry for the inconvenience.

— NASA Astronauts (@NASA_Astronauts) January 22, 2018 and NASA TV were still functioning as of 11:00 a.m. Eastern. 

Read more: Space Policy, mission status

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Jason Davis

Editorial Director for The Planetary Society
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Emily Lakdawalla

Solar System Specialist for The Planetary Society
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