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NASA Plum Brook projects on hold

Andy Ouriel • Oct 4, 2013 at 8:00 PM

Considered a “nonessential” facility, Plum Brook closed Tuesday morning after Congress failed to approve a spending bill late Monday.

The station’s 100 full-time employees received furloughs, or unpaid vacations, and can’t report back until Congress agrees on a new bill.

A shutdown means stopping any and all progress on numerous NASA Plum Brook projects helping to enhance the world-class testing facility.

Among the projects on hold:

• A $22 million upgrade to the Space Power Facility, the world’s largest space environmental simulator capable of creating the vacuum and temperature conditions found in space.

• A $4.5 million investment to move and upgrade the main gate facility from Taylor Road to Scheid Road.

• A $3.5 million demolition of an outdated space-environment test chamber called the Cryogenic Propellant Tank Facility, or K-Site.

• Negotiations with European Space Agency executives, who expressed interest in testing a sophisticated rocket engine at Plum Brook.

“Unless something dramatic happens, where the government shuts down for months, I don’t see it as more than an inconvenience to the overall progress that’s being made out there,” said Tom Kueterman, a member of the Friends of NASA Plum Brook, a local volunteer group advocating for the station. “The shutdown is not going to stop anything.”

Kueterman, however, does worry about a prolonged shutdown pushing back an unannounced testing project scheduled to occur at Plum Brook later this year.

Lowdown on the shutdown

The federal government shutdown’s impact on NASA Plum Brook:

• Employees furloughed: 20 civilian full-time, 80 contracted full-time

• Money invested: $567 million from 2001 to early 2012.

• Annual visitors: 500

• What it is: A one-of-a-kind testing facility and home to unique space equipment. The Space Power Facility, for instance, can create a vacuum and simulate temperatures found in space.

• Fallout: No major tests are presently occurring at the site, but all work must be halted. No one will be allowed on NASA Plum Brook’s grounds other than a security guard.

• Reaction: “We live in a constitutional system with an elected public,” Station director Gen. David Stringer said. “Our government is divided, and they need to pass a budget. As citizens, we have to let that process work.

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