NASA employees demand Mitch McConnell ends government shutdown: ‘Missions to moon and Mars are on hold’

Mr McConnell has refused to bring government funding bills that do not include border wall funding up for a vote

Clark Mindock
New York
Wednesday 16 January 2019 20:45 GMT
NASA employees protest outside Johnson Space Center in Houston amid government shutdown

The US government shutdown is even impacting the heavens. Or, at least those federal workers whose job it is to explore them.

Around 50 furloughed NASA employees have gathered to protest outside the Johnson Space Center in Houston, calling for a return to funding so they can do their jobs and waving around symbolic "Payday" candy bars to send the message that they want their money. Ambitious goals — including efforts to return to the Moon and Mars — are on hold, they said.

While most of the attention surrounding the government shutdown has centered on Donald Trump and congressional Democrats. With Mr Trump's demand for $5.7bn to build his border wall being met with an emphatic "no" by Democrats, some at the Houston demonstration laid blame elsewhere: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“Mitch McConnell, the ball’s in your court,” one sign at the protest read, according to The Houston Chronicle.

"Tell McConnell to give us a vote," another sign at Tuesday's protest read.

Sandra Jones, a public affairs official who just graduated from college and was expecting to start her new job working for NASA last week, told The Independent in a phone interview that every day funding is kept from NASA is a missed opportunity to explore space and expand mankind's understanding of the universe.

"Missions are being put on hold. Some projects have some contractor funding that is keeping them going but that is going to be used up soon. It’s putting us further and further behind," Ms Jones said. "We have some big goals to return to the moon and to put us on Mars, and it’s unfortunate that we’re not able to focus on those missions right now".

Mr McConnell is the Republican leader in the Senate, and has refused to bring forward any legislation that does not include the funds Mr Trump has said he needs to build the barrier on the US-Mexico border.

Meanwhile, Democrats in the House have passed government funding bills that would likely gain bipartisan support should the Senate take them up, even though they do not include border wall funding.

The Republican-controlled Senate voted overwhelmingly last year to pass a bill that did not include wall funding, but that measure was rejected by the then-Republican controlled House of Representatives.

Mr McConnell has said that a solution must be negotiated with the president, as he would have veto power to reject funding bills he does not approve.

The 50 or so NASA employees who make up a small portion of the roughly 800,000 federal employees who have been either furloughed or told to work without pay since 22 December expressed exasperation in Houston. For younger workers like Ms Jones, not having a pay cheque can be especially challenging.

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"For us, it’s especially difficult. If you’ve been working for a while hopefully you have a savings, but I really feel like, for us as young people, it’s hitting us hard," Ms Jones said. "We just graduated college. We have student loans. We’re really not sur show to pay for food and stuff like that".

Government workers impacted by the shutdown did not receive paychecks last week, and it is not clear that leaders in Washington will find a way to overcome the impasse any time soon. That means tight budgets, second jobs, and desperate searches for cash to put food on the table and pay mortgages for federal workers.

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