SEATTLE — While the partial government shutdown has left thousands of workers without a paycheck, it is also taking a toll on the space science community. Research projects are put on hold while observatories get ready to close down. And NASA’s famous Hubble Space Telescope has suffered a mechanical problem that only furloughed NASA employees can repair.
Here at the 233rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS), the largest annual gathering of astronomers and astrophysicists in the country, the government shutdown has barred hundreds of employees of NASA and the National Science Foundation (NSF) from giving talks, presenting new science results and even attending the conference voluntarily. Several events had to be canceled, while many NASA scientists have had to rely on partners outside of NASA to give their presentations in their absence.
Meanwhile, telescope facilities that have so far remained open during the shutdown will soon run out of money and cease operations. This includes the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), a federally funded organization that operates the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), the Green Bank Telescope and the Very Large Array (VLA).
NRAO officials at the AAS conference said that their telescope facilities have enough funding left over from before the shutdown to operate at least through the end of January, if not mid-February. If the government shutdown does not end before then, the facilities will have to shut down, too.