Yeah, the federal government’s shut down. More than 800,000 workers nationwide have been furloughed (imagine everyone who has a job in Silicon Valley, from the Intel executive suite to the ticket-takers at the San Jose Earthquakes games, laid off at the same time). National parks are closed. Scientific research is on hold. Ditto for some aviation safety programs. The courts may run out of money in a week or two. Money’s been cut off for a widely used nutrition program for women and children, and some workers handling veterans benefits have been sent home. You get the picture: This is bad and can only get worse.
Still, far above us, government work goes on.
I haven’t been getting my regular NASA email alerts about when the International Space Station — one of my favorite federally supported programs — is passing overhead. The space agency’s Twitter accounts — for projects like the Voyager deep-space probes and the Mars Curiosity rover — all acknowledged the government shutdown earlier this week and went silent. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t working. The Voyagers are pushing to and past the edge of the solar system, and Curiosity and the other rovers are still uncovering the secrets of Mars.
And the space station — that’s up there, too. This morning, I went out in the backyard to enjoy a few minutes of quiet and a sky full of winter constellations. Off in the distance, a steady white light moved toward the dawn. The International Space Station, still skimming along at 17,500 mph, for now still above the shutdown.