Obama: NASA Will Almost Completely Shut Down, Except Mission Control

Obama: NASA Will Almost Completely Shut Down, Except Mission Control

In a press conference just seven hours before the midnight deadline for Congress to pass a funding bill or cause a partial government shutdown, President Obama listed NASA as one of the affected agencies.

Earlier today, the Senate rejected House-passed changes to the “clean” — absent political provisions — Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government operating that the Senate passed on Friday.   Later it did agree to a House-passed bill that would allow members of the military to be paid even during a government shutdown.  Guidance for DOD on Friday said the military would be paid, but only after Congress passed a FY2014 funding bill.   Thus their paychecks could have been delayed; now they will not.

Civilian DOD employees and hundreds of thousands of other government workers will not be as lucky.  Only a small percentage — those who are performing “excepted” activities — will continue to work and are guaranteed to be paid at some point.   The remainder will be furloughed with no guarantee that they will ever be paid. 

NASA posted its shutdown plan on Friday and it is evident that few NASA workers will be at their jobs.   NASA Headquarters told Center Directors to “narrowly construe” what activities are essential.   Operating spacecraft that already have been launched is one of the few essential activities identified.   The International Space Station (ISS) comes under that exception.  However, getting spacecraft ready for launch, for example the MAVEN spacecraft scheduled for launch to Mars in November, apparently is not among the exceptions:  “…if a satellite mission has not yet been launched, work will generally cease on that project.”

In a roughly 10 minute appearance about 5:00 pm Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) today, President Obama scolded House Republicans for attaching political provisions to a bill to keep the government operating.   He insisted that he remains hopeful that Congress “will choose to do the right thing” and pass a bill tonight, but offered a list of government activities and services that will continue and those that will cease if Congress does not.  

Social Security checks will continue to be processed, Medicare patients will still be able to see their doctors, the military will continue their duties, as well as air traffic controllers and border control agents.  

 “NASA will shut down almost entirely, but Mission Control will remain open to support the astronauts serving on the space station,” the President said.

Among the activities that will cease:  all the National Parks and Smithsonian museums will close, affecting the small businesses that rely on the tourist trade.  He also noted that the U.S. Government is the nation’s largest employer, with 2 million civilian workers plus 1.4 million active duty military, and hundreds of thousands will be out of work.

Meanwhile, up on Capitol Hill, it is impossible to guess the end game.  Check back here later this evening for any breaking news.

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