Government Shutdown: NASA Celebrates 55th Birthday By Suspending Curiosity Rover And Other Space Programs

By Josh Lieberman on October 1, 2013 12:26 PM EDT

capitol building
The government shutdown has forced NASA to suspend work on most of its programs. 97 percent of its workforce is staying home during the shutdown. (Photo: Reuters)

NASA is having an epically bad 55th birthday. The space agency, which began operations on October 1, 1958, celebrated today by shutting down almost entirely. NASA's website says it all: head over there and you'll be met with the message, "Due to the lapse in federal government funding, this website is not available. We sincerely regret this inconvenience." 

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The federal government shutdown, which began today at 12:01 AM, has hit NASA hard with 97 percent of its employees now furloughed, the highest percentage of any government agency. That means that only 549 of NASA's 18,250 employees will report to work today. According to a NASA shutdown plan (which is hosted on NASA's site, so is not currently available), employees working on operations related to the International Space Station are still on the job -- Mission Control can't exactly stop assisting and communicating with the six astronauts currently aboard the ISS. Other spacecraft currently operating will be maintained, but the data it sends back won't be analyzed until the government shutdown ends.

Future NASA missions may be compromised by the government shutdown. MAVEN, a mission to explore the Martian atmosphere, is set to launch around November 18, when a three-month launch window opens up. As of today, work has ceased on that project, which could delay MAVEN's launch considerably if the shutdown drags on: if this launch window is missed, the next one doesn't begin until 2016.     

And what of the Curiosity rover, which just made international headlines after finding water in Martian soil? The poor little guy, en route to Mount Sharp, has literally stopped in its tracks. Curiosity has been put into "protective mode," and will not gather data until its woken up again. This is the saddest Curiosity news since the rover sang happy birthday to itself while on the surface of an incredibly harsh and lonely planet. 

Yesterday, NASA's Near Earth Object Office, which monitors the skies for asteroids and comets approaching Earth, freaked everyone out by posting the following message on Twitter: "In the event of government shutdown, we will not be posting or responding from this account. We sincerely hope to resume tweets soon." They later clarified, saying that other astronomers and agencies are still watching for near Earth objects during the government shutdown. 

Thinking of heading to NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center tomorrow to check out the first day of their new origins of life exhibit? I think you know where this is going. Don't count on it.

So, uh, happy 55th birthday, NASA! Enjoy the (lack of) cake.

READ MORE:

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NASA Fuel Shortage: Will Plutonium Scarcity End Deep-Space Exploration By 2020?

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