Space

On Mars, it's as if the shutdown never happened

Mars Rover Curiosity

Curiosity chugs toward Mars' Mt. Sharp. (NASA photo)

On Mars, it's as if the government  shutdown never happened. NASA's Mars rover, Curiosity, continued chugging toward a mountain on the Red Planet while Congress fought over conditions for a spending deal.

NASA staffed a skeleton crew of 550 out of its total 18,000 workforce during the shutdown, keeping Curiosity on its eight-kilometer trek to Mount Sharp. Moving at a maximum speed of 1.5 inches per second, Curiosity is sometimes able to cover 40 meters of ground per day. While it continued sending images back to NASA as it journeyed to its ultimate Martian destination, the rover's team was happy to reintroduce itself via its favorite means of public communication: Twitter.

Eager to be back after a nearly three-week social media hiatus, the Curiosity team linked to a picture of the 5.5-km Mount Sharp, which Curiosity could reach by the end of 2013.

"Allow me to reintroduce myself," the Curiosity team announced on Twitter to its 1.5 million followers. "I'm back on Twitter & even closer to Mars' Mount Sharp."

Fortunately for NASA, the shutdown does not appear to have delayed the launch of its next Mars probe, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) orbiter.

According to NASA officials, the $650 million mission remains on pace to launch Nov. 18 because NASA granted it a shutdown exemption. In addition to studying the Martian atmosphere, MAVEN is to act as a communications relay between NASA and the two rovers cruising around on the Red Planet: Curiosity and Opportunity. The orbiter NASA currently uses as a communications relay is more than a decade old.

Had it not been exempted, the shutdown could have caused MAVEN to miss its window, which closes Dec. 7. If that had happened, the next possible launch date for Maven would have been 2016 due to the positioning of Mars and Earth.

NOAA assessing shutdown impacts

Now back to full staff, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is sorting out whether the shutdown affected the development of its two largest satellite programs, the Joint Polar Satellite System and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R (GOES-R) program.

Worth a collective $22 billion in estimated lifecycle costs, the satellite programs are vital to NOAA's mission of providing weather forecast data to scientists on the ground.

"Currently, NOAA is assessing the short and long-term impacts of the government shutdown to the development of, and launch schedules for, all the spacecraft in its satellite acquisition portfolio, particularly, GOES-R and JPSS," a NOAA spokesperson told FCW.

Both programs have experienced cost setbacks and launch delays in the past, and both received congressional attention in September after critical reports were released by the Government Accountability Office.

A team of experts from NOAA, NASA, the Department of Defense and international partners and contractors will complete an analysis of the impact of the shutdown to their costs and schedules over the next several weeks.

About the Author

Frank Konkel is a former staff writer for FCW.

The Fed 100

Save the date for 28th annual Federal 100 Awards Gala.

Featured

  • computer network

    How Einstein changes the way government does business

    The Department of Commerce is revising its confidentiality agreement for statistical data survey respondents to reflect the fact that the Department of Homeland Security could see some of that data if it is captured by the Einstein system.

  • Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Army photo by Monica King. Jan. 26, 2017.

    Mattis mulls consolidation in IT, cyber

    In a Feb. 17 memo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told senior leadership to establish teams to look for duplication across the armed services in business operations, including in IT and cybersecurity.

  • Image from Shutterstock.com

    DHS vague on rules for election aid, say states

    State election officials had more questions than answers after a Department of Homeland Security presentation on the designation of election systems as critical U.S. infrastructure.

  • Org Chart Stock Art - Shutterstock

    How the hiring freeze targets millennials

    The government desperately needs younger talent to replace an aging workforce, and experts say that a freeze on hiring doesn't help.

  • Shutterstock image: healthcare digital interface.

    VA moves ahead with homegrown scheduling IT

    The Department of Veterans Affairs will test an internally developed scheduling module at primary care sites nationwide to see if it's ready to service the entire agency.

  • Shutterstock images (honglouwawa & 0beron): Bitcoin image overlay replaced with a dollar sign on a hardware circuit.

    MGT Act poised for a comeback

    After missing in the last Congress, drafters of a bill to encourage cloud adoption are looking for a new plan.

Reader comments

Wed, Aug 26, 2015 Eddie Houston

This is so cool I love science. To work so hard and get GREAT outcome from it is amazing..

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group