The US government started to shut down on Tuesday morning after Congress embarrassingly failed to come to an agreement on the budget. It's bad news. While science and technology programs as a whole took a hit, NASA's MAVEN spacecraft set is particularly screwed.
As the bulk of the space agency goes into hibernation for the duration of the shutdown, those working on the MAVEN mission must be getting extra nervous. The NASA employee behind the For All Mankind Tumblr boils it down into brutal terms:
In the unlikely event that the shutdown lasts longer than a few days, the processing flow of the orbiter may cause the launch date to slip. If the launch date slips beyond the close of the launch window….
A $US650 million dollar mission will have to be put into storage until 2016, and the overall science output of the vehicle will be reduced significantly because of the solar cycle.
That's a lot of dollars! The MAVEN is supposed to fly to Mars and figure out why the planet's atmosphere disintegrated so many years ago and possibly provide clues on what happened to running water and life on the red planet. The mission's spacecraft is designed after the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Odyssey, and will be equipped with three instrument suites for sensing particles in what's left of the Martian atmosphere.
This is just one program that stands to suffer during the shutdown, by the way. All of the NASA-run visitor's centres around the country will also shut down, turning off a helpful stream of revenue. In the end, over 16,000 of the 18,250 total NASA employees will be furloughed. All because of a little Capitol Hill sabre-rattling. [For All Mankind]