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Government Shutdown Grounds NASA On 55th Birthday: Asteroid Watch Offline, 17,400 Sent Home

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Tried visiting the NASA website recently? Thanks to the government shutdown, it's on hiatus.

So are most of the agency's programs, including @AsteroidWatch, a Twitter account that gives followers a heads-up on "potentially hazardous asteroids and comets that could approach Earth."

NASA made the announcement on the Twitter feed Monday, alerting its 1.85 million followers hours before the government shutdown began:

Just because the Twitter feed has been silenced doesn't mean no one is watching the sky. The shutdown, which ironically coincides with the agency's 55th birthday, doesn't affect academic research undertaken by universities or private astronomers.

But fewer than 600 of the NASA's 18,000 employees were expected to report for work, thereby grounding NASA "almost entirely," President Obama said in a statement Monday.

There may be some bright spots amidst the gloom. NASA will continue to support its two astronauts aboard the International Space Station, as well as spacecraft currently in space, Space.com reported. However, a link to NASA's official shutdown plan is now offline "due to the lapse in federal funding."

"To protect the life of the crew as well as the assets themselves, we would continue to support planned operations of the ISS during any funding hiatus," the plan states, according to Space.com. "Moreover, NASA will be closely monitoring the impact of an extended shutdown to determine if crew transportation or cargo resupply services are required to mitigate imminent threats to life and property on the ISS or other areas."

"Mohawk Guy" Bobak Ferdowsi, flight director on the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity mission, tweeted:

Still, the shutdown could delay upcoming missions, including the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN), which is currently scheduled to launch in November, NASA told The Planetary Society.

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