October 1st saw a near complete shutdown of the US federal government, cutting funding to several major institutions.
The lapse in funding severely affected operations at NASA, with 97% of the agency’s 18,000 staff deemed non-essential. The remaining staff were assigned to tasks deemed ‘mission critical’ such as ground based monitoring of the International Space Station. A spokesperson said “NASA will be closely monitoring the impact of an extended shutdown to determine if crew transportation or cargo resupply services are required to mitigate imminent threats to life and property on the ISS or other areas”.
While the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Applied Physics Laboratory (JPL & APL) were able to ride out the shutdown thanks to their funding from private contractors, other projects have been put on hold or had their remit reduced. The controllers of the Cassini and LADEE probes, in orbit around Saturn and the Moon, were only able to adjust the trajectories of their craft, rather than performing any scientific analysis.
While employees were able to return to work by October 13th, the shutdown and NASA’s reduced federal budget may have more far reaching consequences for the future of space exploration.