The shuttering of the federal government has resulted in NASA shutting down almost completely — but for the time being at least, the Mars Curiosity rover won't be affected. A spokesperson for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which operates both Curiosity and the older Spirit rover, has clarified to International Business Times that JPL is a private contractor owned by the California Institute of Technology. As such, its personnel aren't among the 17,701 NASA employees that were furloughed today after the US Congress was unable to pass a funding bill. That means at the moment Curiosity will continue to operate as scheduled, even if its Twitter account has gone offline.
Still, that doesn't mean the rover couldn't run into issues should the partisan brinksmanship continue. JPL's Jane Platt told the Times that "changes to JPL's status will be assessed on a week-by-week basis as events unfold." Should the shutdown stretch on Curiosity isn't the only Mars-related project that could suffer. As Space.com points out, the NASA furloughs have sidelined preparation for the launch of the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution — or MAVEN — project. Designed to study the Martian atmosphere, MAVEN had been scheduled to launch on November 18th, but it's working with a relatively narrow window. If the craft doesn't launch by December 7th, team members say, it would have to wait a full 26 months before Earth and Mars would line up again.