Happy Days Are Here Again!

But no “Happy Days” for more than 800,000 Federal employees.A sign declares the National Archive is closed due to a partial federal government shutdown in Washington

Because here we are, in our third government shutdown in one year.  Lest we’ve forgotten:

  1. January 20, 2018 – January 23, 2018
  2. February 9, 2018 – February 9, 2018
  3. December 22, 2018 – Till Further Notice

In this current shutdown those Federal employees – about a quarter of the government – aren’t getting paid, though many of those are considered “essential” and have to work anyway.

That number of unpaid employees does not include the President or Congress, which seem more and more unessential every day.

These federal departments are shuttered:

departments shutdown cropped

This list does not include NASA, which stands for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, though I’ve decided NASA actually stands for Needless And Stupid Assignments.

NASA did, however, get nailed in the shutdown – about 95 percent of NASA employees aren’t working and aren’t getting paid.

But never fear.  NASA makes exceptions for the folks responsible for keeping NASA people and property safe.  “Property” includes currently operational spacecraft.

And “currently operational spacecraft” include the New Horizons and its January 1 flyby of Ultima Thule, also referred to as the “celestial snowman”:

ultima snowman
“Celestial snowman” (left) and Ultima Thule (right).

That’s right – there were plenty of people hanging around in NASA’s and other control rooms, high-fiving and patting themselves on the back when they verified that New Horizons had, indeed, done a flyby and taken pictures of Ultima Thule, the most scientists high-fivingdistant object ever visited by a spacecraft.

That distance is around four billion miles, so well, yeah, that’s distant.

And what is Ultima Thule?

First a definition.  In Latin, it means “the highest degree attainable.”  For NASA purposes, “the farthest point; the limit of any journey.”

In addition to “celestial snowman,” various media have referred to Ultima Thule as “a pristine fragment from the earliest days of the solar system,” “small frozen world,” “distant object,” “minor planet,” “a tiny and mysterious object” and “a bowling pin.”because it's there cropped

Why did NASA want New Horizons to do a flyby, aside from, “because it’s there”?

Well, the New Horizons spacecraft was sort of in the neighborhood – it had done an earlier flyby of Pluto, so like the Energizer Bunny, it kept going and going and going…

Cost for Pluto flyby:  $720 million.
Side trip for Ultima Thule:  $81 million.

What we’ve learned about Ultima Thule for that extra $81 million:

john spencer_01 cropped
John Spencer described Ultima Thule as “not round.”  Wow!  He really is a rocket scientist!

“We know it’s not round,” said John Spencer, the mission’s deputy project scientist.

Did I mention “Needless And Stupid Assignments”?

What’s it all mean?

We have more than 800,000 Federal employees who aren’t getting paid, but a bunch of NASA scientists who are getting paid to look at pictures of a bowling pin and ascertain that isn’t round.

If only I’d known, I could have saved NASA the trouble – and us taxpayers the money – by sending this to Mr. Spencer:

circle cropped bowling_3

Example of “Round”

Example of “Not Round”


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