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Uncertainty in the Air at NASA Ames

During Yuri Gagarin Education Day, employees worried about government shutdown.

UPDATE: The Democratic and Republican members of Congress reached a tentative and temporary agreement about one hour before the midnight deadline that extended the budget negotiations until Thursday, Apr. 14. 

With only a few hours until the potential government shutdown, employees at NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field await their fate.

"They are going to have an All-Hands meeting at two o'clock," said Tom Clausen, the K-12 education officer at NASA Ames Research Center, from outside building 211 during Yuri's Education Day, which brought to the federal agency nearly 6,000 Bay Area students. "They are going to tell them whatever they know and whatever they've been told from NASA headquarters, and we'll just have to see how that goes."

Clausen explained that all week the staff has performed "little exercises" of different scenarios.

"We'll just have to wait and see," he said. "There are a lot of loose ends that are going to come unraveled."

Another employee, who spoke on background, said that fewer staff participated in Yuri's Education Day because of meetings about the shutdown.

Also worried about the shutdown was Ivor Dawson, the founder and president of the Traveling Space Museum, who contracts with NASA as a vendor to brings space exploration activities to schools across the country. At Yuri's Day, he had a hovercraft, a space shuttle simulator and a space toilet.

"As a matter of fact, if I don't get my payroll information for this job in tonight, we don't get paid on time," said Dawson, who employs a staff of close to 10 people. "This hinders our ability to travel nationally and bridging the information, inspiration gap that we try to do for kids all over the country."

NASA Ames employees 2,500 people, of which half are contractors who may potentially be affected. Only people whose absence "could imminently threaten the safety of human life or the protection of property" may not be furloughed, .

Several firefighters, who would probably keep working in a government shutdown, exhibited their truck and firefighting equipment to kids today and said they still worried about their jobs.

letter from NASA headquarters to the Office of Personnel Management said it would have a number of employees who would not be furloughed in a government shutdown. NASA Ames would also continue to provide direct assistance to the International Space Center, a 24/7 operation with six astronauts/cosmonauts on board.

Only about 175 employees would be considered "excepted," or essential personnel, a NASA spokesperson said.

Employees—like Clausen—involved in educational support or public access to NASA centers and facilities, would be furloughed. 

He said he worked for NASA at the time of the 1995 government shutdown and recognized the clear difference between the two scenarios.

"That was a different time of year, during the holidays, so a lot of people were on leave anyways," Clausen said. "It was only a couple of days. I did go down to the unemployment office in Sunnyvale, but I ended up not needing it, because they paid us anyway."

According to Clausen, the Ames Federal Employee Union president Lee Stone told them they might be off a week, or two to five days.

For those who belong to the Ames Federal Employee Union, there is furlough information on the blog: afeu.org/blog/?p=67

"We are on a standby mode until we find out what those people in Washington will do," a NASA employee said casually.

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