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At midnight on October 1, 2013 the US government entered the state of government shutdown where all functions deemed non-essential are suspended. This shutdown lasted 16 days.

How did this shutdown affect NASA operations?

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Here is a basic rundown of the effects of the shutdown:

  1. 97% of NASA was furloughed. That is the highest percentage of any agency listed. The only known NASA direct operations are those related to Mission Control, and astronauts on the ISS. Everything else was shut down completely.
  2. JPL and APL are technically NASA contractors. This is really good news as they are the primary contacts for the deep space probes. Since the money to keep things going has already been appropriated, they can operate normally. (Source: Shutdown FAQ dated September 27, 2013 [PDF].) There is some evidence that things are still working in this department, for instance, HiRISE recently released pictures of the comet ISON.
  3. The single hardest hit to NASA right now is that MAVEN has stopped being prepared for launch in just a month an a half. Working in the space business, I can almost guarantee that the last month and a half are extremely critical. The launch window is 3 weeks long, so in theory, a 2 week delay won't have significant impact, but if the launch window is missed, the orbiter will have to be put in to storage and wait another 26 months until launch. However, it was announced on October 3rd that access to the MAVEN crew would be granted, allowing them to continue work, with only 3 lost days resulting.
  4. This site is showing huge amounts of panic as we can't seem to access http://www.nasa.gov. Luckily there's the internet Wayback Machine, which SE won't let me link to;-)
  5. LADEE seems to be fine, the orbital maneuvers will be performed according to schedule. Photos might be delayed, however. (IEEE)
  6. Hubble will receive enough attention to maintain health, but not perform any science. (IEEE)
  7. All NASA PR activity has stopped. No twitter, press releases, etc.
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  • $\begingroup$ Basically they got a paid vacation and the critical items were tended to. $\endgroup$ – user6972 Dec 9 '13 at 8:03
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    $\begingroup$ On a personal note, my replacement on a JPL subcontract was hired before the shutdown, but could not receive their NASA badge until sometime after the shutdown ended. $\endgroup$ – Jon Ericson Dec 9 '13 at 21:58
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Besides the issues already mentioned, it's also caused some morale problems.

Unlike what user6972 claims, we did not have 'vacation'. Some were designated as essential employees, and were required to work through the shutdown. Some were sent home, but unlike with a vacation, you couldn't really go anywhere as you might be called back at any time.

In my case, I was designated as essential-on-call. This meant that I was required to check in daily to see if there were any emergencies that I needed to respond to, and in one case, I had to actually go into the office to correct a problem that I couldn't deal with remotely.

This has also resulted in some significant morale issues, as we kept getting conflicting reports from our contract management about what we were or weren't allowed to do remotely. As our task is staffed by personnel who work for three different companies, everyone got different information; even within the same task, some people's duties were considered essential, others not.

Now we're sitting in a waiting game -- only the civil servants were paid for their time off. Those of us that are contracts are still waiting to hear months later if we're going to have to burn through weeks of leave to make up our time, or if the government's going to pay us for the time. We've been told that it depends on the terms of the contract, and that each contract will have to be evaluated separately.

The long-term affects won't be known for some time ... and that is, how many people decide to leave NASA and federal work in general so that they don't have to go through this again?

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  • $\begingroup$ Why would this cause people to leave? Didn't they get paid? By comparison, how many leave an industry after a two week strike? $\endgroup$ – C. Towne Springer Jan 14 '14 at 21:15
  • $\begingroup$ @C.TowneSpringer : No, we didn't all get paid. And in other agencies, scientists had to destroy lab animals that they wouldn't be able to care for and it'll take years to rebuild back to where they are. Why risk dealing with the stress and hassles of politicians who are anti-intellectual when you could go and do the same work somewhere else? (especially for civil servants who have enough time in to collect a pension on top of it). $\endgroup$ – Joe Jan 15 '14 at 0:23
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    $\begingroup$ @joe NASA is certainly buffeted by the whims of administrations more than most, at least in terms of really big projects that start/stop/start/vanish. The vagaries of the market are hardly more stable. A brother who is a national park ranger was pretty angry over the partial shutdown but it was over before he could get up a good head of steam. I did contract work at AMES in the 80's and the stuttering work schedule and uncertainty of funding for projects were a constant we just had to deal with. For the NASA full timers though, AMES was as good as tenure at a university. $\endgroup$ – C. Towne Springer Jan 15 '14 at 0:38

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