When NASA's New Horizons spacecraft soars by the space rock Ultima Thule on New Years Eve, it will be the most distant object humankind has ever explored.
Though you'll be able to stream the historic flyby on the YouTube channel of Johns Hopkins Univerisity's Applied Physics Laboratory, the event — which is arguably the most awe-inspiring item of space news all year — won't be available on NASA TV, which typically offers extensive commentary and access to subject matter experts regarding the space agency's projects. The reason: the ongoing government shutdown means that 95 percent of NASA's workforce is home on furlough.
"Act of Ineptitude"
NASA employees are disgusted by the legislative dysfunction that's keeping all but the most mission-critical workers home during the historic flyby, according to the Houston Chronicle — and their ire is reportedly focused on politicians who have allowed the science agency's work to grind to a halt.
"We have not heard from a single member who supports the president's inaction," said the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, a union that represents federal workers, in a statement quoted by the paper. "Most view this as an act of ineptitude."
The Chronicle also pointed to a post by Casey Dreier, a senior space policy adviser to the nonprofit scientific advocacy organization The Planetary Society, that chastised leaders for failing the nation's scientific workers — and worried that the political brinkmanship of a shutdown could lead talented workers away from government work entirely, altering the dynamics of space exploration.
"I fear that we will see more and more NASA employees ask themselves why they put up with such needless disruptions and leave for jobs the private sector," Dreier wrote. "We know that NASA can get back to work, but how long will the best and the brightest want to work at an agency that continues to get callously tossed into political churn?"
READ MORE: NASA, other federal workers not as supportive of government shutdown as Trump claims, union rep says [Houston Chronicle]
More on government shutdowns and space travel: Government Shutdown Hampers SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy Testing