We knew the sequester would cut NASA deep — and we feel it more keenly, we who love science and all things space — but we didn’t know where precisely the blade would fall. We figured travel into space, such as through the Commercial Crew Program (CCP), might be curtailed, but who knew it would limit NASA’s travel on Earth, too? That’s what’s going down. Due to the March 1 sequestration, NASA has issued serious restrictions on the travel of its employees and their participation in major conferences. Essentially, the agency is grounded, but still allowed to play in its room.
The edicts were issued by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on last week, one of which was that “NASA-funded participation will not be allowed” at some prominent events — which includes the National Space Symposium in April. If NASA folks want to attend one of the biggest annual meet-ups of Earthlings interested in space and the latest developments about going there, they have to do so on their own dime. Normally, NASA employees don’t just attend; many are speakers or exhibitors there.
In the words of no one official from NASA, this certainly sucks. Space Foundation spokeswoman Janet Stevens said:
“The show will go on. It will be awesome as usual. We will miss our NASA partners if they ultimately are not able to attend. It’s a shame that at a U.S.-based space symposium our own space agency won’t be represented when we have representation from all over the world.”
NASA spokesman Allard Beutel wrote in an email: “[W]e won’t have a booth there and NASA personnel aren’t attending,” but did not offer how much money NASA will save by not participating, but he did confirm that the cutbacks like this have taken $21 million from their travel bill.
And that’s just in the States. NASA has approved the attendance of exactly zero foreign conferences for its employees, such as the International Astronautical Federation’s Spring Meeting in France or the Sixth European Conference on Space Debris in Germany. That’s a lot of empty chairs, because NASA people sure do like space. So as far as presenting research, brainstorming with international colleagues, and seeming like a for real member of the international community when it comes to space exploration… yeah, we’re not so much into that anymore.
While these new travel and participation restrictions persist, the only solution would be for NASA to cook up its own symposiums and get the world to come to it.
(Space.com, images courtesy of NASA/Paul E. Alers)
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