Government shutdown mutes Mars Curiosity rover's tweets

The Mars rover Curiosity won’t be left in park on the Red Planet this week, but no updates about the mission will be tweeted.

Scientists and engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge are reporting to work despite the partial federal government shutdown that took effect on Tuesday, JPL spokeswoman Veronica McGregor said.

Curiosity and other missions that the center manages, including another Mars rover –- Opportunity --- and two Mars orbiters, are not currently impacted.

The majority of the more than 18,000 NASA employees were furloughed on Tuesday after lawmakers could not reach an agreement on a budget and President Obama’s healthcare law.

However, because Caltech manages JPL on a contract basis for NASA, the approximately 5,000 employees who work at the lab are not affected.

“Any changes will be assessed on a week-by-week basis as events unfold,” McGregor said. “In the short term, nothing here is impacted.”

While day-to-day operations will continue, JPL’s ability to communicate with the public about its missions will be compromised, she said.

On Monday night, tweets were sent from several of NASA’s heavily followed Twitter accounts that said the accounts would not be updated during the shutdown. JPL's website and its social media accounts will also be static, as they require review from NASA.

That includes Curiosity’s (@MarsCuriosity) account, which has more than 1.4 million followers. The account became popular during the rover’s harrowing landing on Mars in August 2012. Curiosity is currently in the middle of a two-year mission to explore environments that could have once sustained life on Mars.

Also on hiatus is an account that informs the public about relatively nearby asteroids. JPL’s Near Earth Objects division tweets from Asteroid Watch (@AsteroidWatch). The account also has more than 1 million followers.

The announcement that the account would not be updated during the shutdown caused panic across Twitter on Monday night until a tweet was sent from the account assuring followers that astronomers would continue to monitor the skies for asteroids.

Public outreach events will also be canceled and press releases will not be sent out.

But the shutdown is not currently expected to have a severe impact on any JPL missions.

“As far as day-to-day operations, we’re fine,” McGregor said on Tuesday. “It’s pretty much the same today as it was yesterday.”

-- Tiffany Kelly,

Follow on Google+ and on Twitter: @LATiffanyKelly.


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