When it is darkest, men see the stars.
This afternoon I needed to check something urgently, and as is my habit in this day and age, I jumped to a website where I knew the information was available.
A few seconds later, with some irritation I went to hit “refresh” as the request failed to go through, and then realized that it was a *.nasa.gov address, at Ames, as it happens, and I was not going to be getting that bit of data this afternoon, not without some old fashioned legwork.
A bit later I realized with increasing dismay that a signficant fraction of the illustrations for my class next week were hosted on *.nasa.gov websites. I link to those by preference, because .edu websites hosting such info have historically been too evanescent and not reliably there when needed.
This is nothing. Minor irritation. Incrementally more work for me to carry out routine tasks.
The other consequences of the ongoing shutdown are getting more serious, for science, specifically.
I saw the first strike when the NRAO closed last week. Friends were furloughed, observations ended. Time on the sky for multi-million dollar facilities is permanently lost, for ever. Our last proposal had completed observations, and our next proposed observations have not yet started. NRAO can’t tell us if they were approved or rejected even. I hear GBT operated for a bit with WV state money, and rumour has it Arecibo ticks on, since “they’re used to not being paid anyway…” but the websites are down, so it is impossible to tell.
ALMA continues, it has international partners, and furloughs are, apparently, illegal under Chilean labour law.
MAVEN, the Mars atmospheric probe due to be launched next month, was halted, then restarted as NASA bravely declared it essential to proceed. They lost a couple of days of the few days of slack they had in the schedule before hitting a rather tight launch window.
Rest of NASA is dark.
AURA has summarized upcoming walls for astronomical facilities – NOAO shuts at the end of next week, if things continue, initially Kitt Peak and Gemini North. STSCI ought to keep running through October, but at some point HST would have to go safe and cease operation, again permanently losing observing windows.
The real tragedy right now is the shuttering of the Antarctic bases and with it the research done there (including ongoing PSU research projects our students work on).
In the very near future, most of the staff will have been pulled back, leaving minimal skeleton crews, ending preparation for the southern summer research season, and very quickly making it impossible to restart any work even if the US government comes back on.
Ice White & Blue has an epic rant on just how infuriatingly stupid and wasteful that particular unintended consequence is.
The National Labs are next – LANL, Sandia etc will shut down as their corporate managing institution run out of buffered funds.
After that we start to run out of grants, new grants are not funded, interim payments are not made.
Universities will have to decide whether they can try to tide people over in the hope the money gets paid eventually. Most will, for a while.
Application deadlines are coming up.
The latest word is that we are to plan to submit on time, and then for any deadline that passes, to plan to have a submission ready within 3 days of the government restarting.
Of course the proposal guidelines are on shuttered government websites, in some cases.
At some point, this will not work. It will not be possible for agencies to receive the proposals when they come back to work. Some deadlines will be pushed back. At some point this will lead to awards being pushed back, which is a permanent loss in funding. Pushing award deadlines back 3 months is a one-off 25% cut in funding. If the backlog gets too large, some programs will simply be suspended for the year.
Enough programs shut down, the science enterprise scales down in proportion. Less money means fewer people hired, fewer students funded.
Building a functioning science infrastructure takes years, destroying it can be done quite quickly.
Today it looked for a few hours like the government might actually reopen.
But, the proposed deal is just for a short term extension of the debt ceiling. The government would remain shut. And, they didn’t vote on it anyway. And, it sounds like the House Republicans wanted to attach some conditions to the plan anyway. The President can not accept any conditions. Congress needs to extend the debt ceiling to allow for authorized funding to be allocated, ideally by bringing back the Gephardt Rule, abolished by the House Republicans in the last government shutdown episode almost two decades ago.
It is not clear if they House majority will fold, or if some Senate proposal will be forced through. The latest version has them proposing to pass a clone of the 2011 budget.
It is hard to compare budgets, the historical data is all on .gov websites, but near as I can tell that implied near flat funding for NSF and maybe 3-4% cut for NASA. How far down the line items cuts would propagate could get interesting – we might end up with no money for JWST and a couple of billion dollars for obsolete hardware for cancelled launcher from Utah aerospace companies. Again.
Or the whole thing could implode triggering some hybrid between a constitutional crisis and financial market seizure that could make 2008 look like a foreshock.
Not a way to run civilization folks.