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Astrophysics Meetings, But Not Missions, Disrupted By Government Shutdown

SEATTLE — The ongoing partial government shutdown has upended aspects of a major astronomy conference this week but has not, for now, affected operations of NASA astrophysics missions.

The partial government shutdown triggered Dec. 22 when funding lapsed for a number of agencies, including NASA and the National Science Foundation, has prevented civil servants from those agencies from attending the 233rd Meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) here. The AAS estimated prior to the conference that about 10 to 15 percent of its expected 3,200 registrants would not be able to attend the meeting, the largest annual gathering of astronomers in the United States, because of the shutdown.

Those absences led to the cancellation of a NASA town hall here scheduled for Jan. 7 as well as a separate town hall on the James Webb Space Telescope Jan. 8. That deprived attendees from formal updates on the status of JWST, six months after an independent review led NASA to delay the flagship mission’s launch to the spring of 2021.

However, Ken Sembach, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute, responsible for science operations for JWST, assured astronomers that the shutdown is not further delaying work on the mission.

“Work on JWST at Northrop Grumman and at Space Telescope continues despite the government shutdown,” he said at an institute town hall Jan. 7. He said that vertical axis vibration testing of the spacecraft element of JWST had finished in the last week, with preparations for additional vibration testing underway this week. “Things are progressing well with the hardware.”

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DylanThomas

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