U.S. Government Shutdown Impacts Asteroid Workshop in Houston

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WASHINGTON — Attendees of the NASA-sponsored Asteroid Initiative Idea Synthesis Workshop that opened in Houston Monday were cooling their heels Tuesday as a government shutdown took effect following the failure of Congress to enact a stopgap spending measure by the Oct. 1 deadline for approving fresh appropriations.

The workshop was being held at the nonprofit Universities Space Research Association’s Lunar and Planetary Institute’s headquarters, not a NASA facility. But since the workshop was funded by NASA, organizers were required to shut it down.

NASA notified attendees by email shortly after midnight that there would be no sessions on Tuesday or Wednesday “due to a lapse in government appropriations.” The email promised an update on completing the workshop once the government reopens.  Of NASA’s 18,000 civil servants, only 549 are allowed to work during the shutdown. A further 1,566 NASA civil servants are on call in the event of an emergency.

“NASA has indicated that once this silliness in Washington is over they are going to do a virtual meeting to finish this,” Stephen Mackwell, director of the Lunar and Planetary Institute, told SpaceNews.

Although NASA headquarters officials attending the conference were told to fly back to Washington on Tuesday, non-NASA attendees will still have a chance to talk asteroids while in Houston, Mackwell said.

On Tuesday morning, the B612 Foundation — a nonprofit that aims to launch a privately funded asteroid-hunting space telescope — invited workshop attendees to attend an “Un Conference” at a nearby hotel.

Here’s the email from B612 Foundation Chief Operating Officer Danica Remy:

Dear Asteroid Initiative Ideas Synthesis Workshop Attendees

To keep the asteroid initiative conversation moving forward, B612 is hosting an Asteroid Un Conference today Hilton Hotel @ NASA on 3000 Parkway from 2:30 pm to 6pm.  Coffee and healthy snacks will be provided and other items can be purchased on your own dime.  You can learn more about the unconference format here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unconference.  Essentially discussions in small groups will be created by whatever the participants would like to propose, i.e. one big networking session.

You are all welcome to join us (Of course, NASA personnel will not be able to participate.)  We would appreciate it if you could RSVP using this link so I can give the hotel a head count.