The world’s largest airborne observatory was supposed to arrive in Seattle this week. But thousands of scientists attending the “Super Bowl of Astronomy” won’t see NASA’s space-exploring plane. The 747’s visit to the 233rd Meeting of the American Astronomical Society is canceled. The withdrawal is due to the partial government shutdown now stretching into its third week.
Politicians in Washington are stuck trying to resolve an impasse over President Donald Trump’s demand for $5.6 billion to build a wall on the U.S.’s southern border. (See WORLDteen’s “Government Shutdown Looms.”)
The plane isn’t the only thing missing from that and other scientific conferences held this week: Hundreds of government scientists won’t attend either.
Keith Seitter, executive director of the American Meteorological Society, says the shutdown’s impact stretches beyond absences at this week’s conferences. It also means some of the nation’s best scientific minds are sitting at home, not doing science. “That’s difficult to recover from,” he says.
Event attendees describe the yearly conferences as crucial opportunities for scientists to exchange research and ideas.
“That’s the value . . ., the people I run into in the hallway or the coffee line, start up a conversation and realize there’s a connection between what they’re doing and what I’m doing,” says satellite imaging expert Amanda O’Connor.
Some 700 federal employees who planned to attend the American Meteorological Society conference in Phoenix are staying home. Another 500 will miss an aeronautics forum in San Diego. The American Astronomical Society estimates 300-450 scientists will be absent from their annual meeting, where the NASA plane was supposed to be. It’s hard to get a firm count: Organizers emailed a survey—but affected government employees aren’t allowed to check their emails.
(NASA’s airborne observatory, SOFIA, with its telescope door open during a test flight. Jim Ross/NASA via AP)