NASA paralysed by US shutdown

Filed on October 15, 2013

The partial shutdown of the US government has forced the furlough of more than 800,000 federal workers, including 97 percent of NASA staff, but two space agency employees are finding ways to keep busy in their orbital office.

NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins and Karen Nyberg remain in orbit aboard the International Space Station.

With NASA's website inactive due to the shutdown, which began Oct 1, the pair have been keeping in touch with the world via Twitter.

"Have you ever watched the clouds go by and let your imagination see different shapes? It works from space as well," Hopkins tweeted.

The millions worldwide who passionately follow space exploration have found a way to break through NASA's silence: a Twitter feed and Facebook are carrying news updates gathered from different sources.

Bill Dunford, a Salt Lake City resident who works at a software company, created the hashtag #ThingsNASAMightTweet, while Angela Gibson, a teacher in Norfolk, Virginia, took to Facebook to call on the media that normally cover NASA to "cover the gap" by posting the news on social media.

Major telescopes in New Mexico and West Virginia suspended their activities Oct 4, while the administration of the giant radiotelescope in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, made plans to furlough all employees in mid-October if the shutdown persists.

NASA temporarily postponed preparations for the launch of the Mars probe Maven, and if the delay extends past mid-December, it will miss the current liftoff window and will have to wait until 2016 for a favourable alignment of the planets.

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