Will the Space Shuttle Fly if the Government Shuts Down?

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You’re probably all too aware of what could happen at midnight tonight if House leaders can’t reach a budget deal, but what about NASA’s Space Shuttle? You know, the imminent launch of a spacecraft supervised by a government-funded space agency?

“Given the realities of the calendar, however, prudent management requires that we plan for an orderly shutdown should Congress be unable to pass a funding bill,” warned NASA administrator Charlie Bolden in an April 6 memo.

“As soon as funding lapses, federal departments and agencies will not be permitted to incur further financial obligations performing activities funded by annual appropriations, except those related to the orderly suspension of operations or performance of excepted activities.”

Sounds rather dire, no? Not to worry, NASA won’t abandon its astronauts on the International Space Station, should a shutdown occur, and shouldn’t have to remove essential personnel involved in active monitoring or maintaining of deployed spacecraft–unless the shutdown drags on. (To say nothing of all the scientists and related personnel analyzing mission data, who’d almost certainly be furloughed.)

The Space Shuttle Endeavour isn’t due to launch until April 29 (it was already delayed from April 19 to April 29). If the government shuts down this weekend, NASA’s second-to-last shuttle launch ever could be affected, though how remains to be seen.

“NASA is still assessing the potential impact to orbiter processing and the upcoming STS-134 mission,” NASA spokesperson Katherine Trinidad told SPACE.com.

Stay tuned for updates later today. Addressing NASA employees, Bolden writes “Should it become necessary to implement our contingency plans, you will receive formal notice from your manager no later than Friday, April 8th regarding the designation of your position and furlough status.”

Fingers crossed House Democrats and Republicans can reach a deal before then.