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Sequester Fallout: Senior NASA Officials Miss Planetary Science Conference

Montage of Our Solar System
Unmanned spacecraft from NASA, Europe and other space agencies are exploring the moon, Mars and other destinations across the solar system. (Image credit: NASA)

THE WOODLANDS, Texas — Scientists from 37 countries are discussing the latest and greatest planetary science discoveries this week, but a few folks are notably absent: high-ranking NASA officials.

Instead of briefing the 1,750 attendees of the 44th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference here in person, two senior NASA officials beamed in via Skype Monday (March 18) to detail some of the finer points of the space agency's budget and goals for the coming years.

"It's a pleasure to be coming to you from D.C., though I'd much rather be in Houston with all of you," said John Grunsfeld, NASA's associate administrator for science missions at the agency's headquarters in Washington.

Neither Grunsfeld nor Jim Green, director of NASA's planetary sciences division, is attending the conference. The two space agency officials explained that in light of the new budgetary constraints known as the "sequester," they decided to stay at NASA headquarters so funds for their travel could be used by active researchers.

Indeed, travel budgets for civil servants were one of the first things to be cut after the sequester came into effect on March 1, other NASA officials have said.

"It has been a tough time here in Washington," Grunsfeld added.

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Miriam Kramer
Miriam Kramer joined Space.com as a staff writer in December 2012. Since then, she has floated in weightlessness on a zero-gravity flight, felt the pull of 4-Gs in a trainer aircraft and watched rockets soar into space from Florida and Virginia. She also serves as Space.com's lead space entertainment reporter, and enjoys all aspects of space news, astronomy and commercial spaceflight.  Miriam has also presented space stories during live interviews with Fox News and other TV and radio outlets. She originally hails from Knoxville, Tennessee where she and her family would take trips to dark spots on the outskirts of town to watch meteor showers every year. She loves to travel and one day hopes to see the northern lights in person. You can follow Miriam on Twitter and Google+.

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