Washington: With a government shutdown threatening to hamper NASA's coverage of the farthest spacecraft flyby in history on New Year's Day, the US space agency has said that the New Horizons social media accounts and NASA TV will continue to operate. The New Horizons probe, which flew past Pluto in 2015, is set to encounter the Kuiper Belt object, referred to as 2014 MU69 -- nicknamed Ultima Thule -- on January 1, 2019.
According to a report in Florida Today on Thursday, there will be no NASA-provided press releases, no social media updates and, perhaps most important to some, no live NASA webcast of the flyby due to the shutdown. Those wanting to follow New Horizons will have to tune into the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory's YouTube channel and the website (pluto.jhuapl.edu) for updates, the report said.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, however, said that the shutdown is unlikely to affect the social media accounts of New Horizons and operations of NASA TV. "Expect to see the @NASANewHorizons social media accounts continue to operate. The contract for these activities was forward funded," Bridenstine said in a tweet on Thursday. "This applies to @OSIRISREx and NASA TV too. @NASA will continue to stun the world with its achievements," he added.
NASA's Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) arrived at asteroid Bennu on December 3. Analysis of initial data from the mission revealed water locked inside the clay that makes up Bennu. Located in the Kuiper Belt, Ultima Thule means "beyond the known world". The New Horizons flyby of Ultima Thule is expected to help scientists better understand what conditions were like when our solar system formed billions of years ago.
The partial shutdown of the US federal government is set to drag into next week after lawmakers made little progress in resolving a budgetary stalemate over funding for the border wall proposed by President Donald Trump. A nearly empty Senate convened for just a few minutes on Thursday, only to announce that there would be no action in the upper chamber and that it would renew budget deliberations on January 2, a day before a divided Congress will be sworn in.
The funding dispute has left hundreds of thousands of federal employees either on unpaid leave or not knowing when they will get paid.