With the U.S. government just hours away from a potential shutdown as lawmakers struggle to agree on a new spending bill, more than 18,000 NASA employees around the country are bracing for the agency to temporarily shut down as well.
If Congress does not pass a continuing resolution by 12:01 a.m. EST (0501 GMT) on Saturday, almost all of NASA's employees — along with most of the federal workforce — will be furloughed, their jobs suspended without pay. Only those employees whose work is deemed critical to protecting the health and safety of humans or property will be exempt from the furlough, NASA officials detailed in the agency's official plan for a government shutdown.
For example, a shutdown will not leave the three NASA astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) high and dry. "ISS operations will continue with critical personnel," Kenneth Todd, NASA's ISS operations integration manager, said during a briefing on Thursday (Jan. 18), in which he discussed two upcoming spacewalks that NASA astronauts will conduct on Jan. 23 and Jan. 29. [In Photos: President Donald Trump and NASA]
Those two spacewalks are expected to continue according to plan regardless of a government shutdown. However, if the government is still not up and running by the time those spacewalks take place, people on Earth will not be able to watch live webcasts of the spacewalks on NASA TV or online, ABC13 reports, because that would require "non-essential" furloughed personnel to be present at NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston.
And don't expect the astronauts to tweet any cool pictures from space during the shutdown — those are also published via employees at JSC, ABC13 reports.
NASA employees who are furloughed may or may not be paid for the time off work, as "pay for these days would depend on future appropriations," NASA's shutdown plan explains. You can read a PDF of the full plan, which NASA submitted to the White House Office of Management and Budget on Nov. 30, 2017, here: https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/atoms/files/171130_revised_shutdown_plan.pdf
Get the Space.com Newsletter
Breaking space news, the latest updates on rocket launches, skywatching events and more!
Hanneke Weitering is a multimedia journalist in the Pacific Northwest reporting on the future of aviation at FutureFlight.aero and Aviation International News and was previously the Editor for Spaceflight and Astronomy news here at Space.com. As an editor with over 10 years of experience in science journalism she has previously written for Scholastic Classroom Magazines, MedPage Today and The Joint Institute for Computational Sciences at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. After studying physics at the University of Tennessee in her hometown of Knoxville, she earned her graduate degree in Science, Health and Environmental Reporting (SHERP) from New York University. Hanneke joined the Space.com team in 2016 as a staff writer and producer, covering topics including spaceflight and astronomy. She currently lives in Seattle, home of the Space Needle, with her cat and two snakes. In her spare time, Hanneke enjoys exploring the Rocky Mountains, basking in nature and looking for dark skies to gaze at the cosmos.