95 percent of NASA employees are currently sidelined
The shutdown, which has now entered its fourth week, centres on a battle of wills between Mr Trump and the US Congress over $5.7billion he wants them to agree to fund construction of his wall along the country’s border with Mexico. As a result, more than 800,000 federal employees have been found themselves sidelined. NASA has been particularly badly affected, with just five percent of its workforce able to do their jobs.
Most of its scientists are among those unable to work.
As a result, a prestigious meeting of the American American Astronomical Society (AAS) between January 6 and 10 in Seattle, Washington was an early casualty.
More than 250 pre-paid badges were never collected, explained AAS’s executive officer Kevin Marvel.
Most of these were for federal employees from NASA, the Smithsonian, and other programmes programs.
The Government shutdown means many federal employees cannot work
Up to 1200 other federal scientists are expected to miss the American Meteorological Society’s January annual meeting in Phoenix, Arizona,as well as the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics SciTech Forum and Exposition in San Diego, California.
Speaking to Cosmos magazine, one space scientist, who asked to remain anonymous, said friends in NASA were not permitted to travel to take vital astronomical measurements for a project which was in all other ways complete.
Because of the nature of the stellar phenomenon, it meant the research opportunity was lost, along with everything involved in setting it up.
The scientist explained: “It’s a waste of money as well as talent.”
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It’s very bad for science. Everything is up in the air
The precise nature of the situation is difficult to ascertain because even NASA’s press office is currently closed – but it is understood scientists are precluded from doing anything to pursue research, in or out of work.
The scientist added: “As a scientist your whole life is related to work.
“The life of a scientist is they have to work. Proposals are due. It’s very bad for science. Everything is up in the air.”
In addition, scientists are not currently being paid, heaping pressure on them as bills start to mount up.
Astronauts are one of the few groups of NASA employees currently allowed to work
Mr Marvel added: “Many of them are rightfully upset and seriously considering finding different jobs in the future.”
He acknowledged: “If you want to make money, you don’t go into science. It’s a very simple rule.”
However, he warned of the possibility talented people could leave to pursue higher paid careers in industry, where they would not have to contend with such worries.
Instead, they go into such careers for the love of discovery.
But if that means they face the risk of being financially whipsawed – not just now, but any time in the future when a similar political deadlock arises – that’s a strong impetus for them to think something on the order of “I’m just going to go into industry and make money”.
The space scientist said: “This is pushing talent away.”
Among the few who are exempt are astronauts themselves – inder US law, the only government employees who can work if their agencies are in shutdown are those whose jobs involve the protection of lives or property, meaning people directly involved in spacecraft operations are exempt.
Also safe for the moment is the US National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), which operates two radio astronomy facilities.
However spokesman David Finley, currently use funds from the National Science Foundation, estimates the money may run out by mid-to-late February.
He said: “If the shutdown were to continue into the spring, we believe that US-based NRAO activities will eventually shut down.”