Credit: NASA/ESA

Another casualty of the government shutdown: The Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, Texas.

Founded at the height of the Apollo program in 1968, the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) is pushing forward on its celebration this year of the 50th anniversary of Apollo and look to the future.

Still, the message from LPI’s Louise Prockter: “I am closing the LPI today at 5 pm, until further notice. Some staff are fully furloughed, some are partially furloughed. Some of our scientists and educators have grants that will continue to fund them for a while, but the rest of the staff do not have a charge code, unfortunately,” Prockter told Inside Outer Space.

“At some point we will no longer be able to pay even those who have grants, since we are not getting paid by the government. This shutdown is starting to have a significantly negative effect on contractors like ourselves.”

Credit: LPI

March event

Prockter said that she wants to stress that currently it is a mixture of non, partial and full furloughs (the science staff have grants so are unfurloughed for the next few weeks. Also, she adds that “we still expect the 50th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) to continue as planned.”

That major event is slated for March 18–22, 2019, held at The Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel and Convention Center, The Woodlands, Texas. This 4.5-day conference brings together international specialists in petrology, geochemistry, geophysics, geology, and astronomy to present the latest results of research in planetary science.

Although President Trump lifted the government shutdown today, Prockter said she has to go ahead with the furlough plans until receipt of authorization from NASA to continue funding the LPI.

“Hopefully that will come very early next week,” Prockter said.

Newly developed extraction technique for the Moon, thermal mining, makes use of mirrors to exploit sun-shy, water ice-laden polar craters.
Credit: School of Mines/Dreyer, Williams, Sowers

Cislunar side-step

In a similar predicament is the first lunar In Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) workshop, “Developing a New Space Economy Through Lunar Resources and Their Utilization:  A Stepped Approach to Establishing Cislunar Commerce Through Science and Exploration.”

It was to be held February 20–22, 2019 at the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) Headquarters in Columbia, Maryland.

“It is unfortunate that the government shutdown in the United States continues unabated. Despite the recent announcement of a temporary funding measure to open the government there is no guarantee that this will become permanent,” explained steering committee member, Clive Neal.

“This situation has had a debilitating effect on our Lunar ISRU Workshop, not only in terms of getting NASA participation, but also support from USRA. At this time, we have no choice but to postpone the workshop,” Neal explained in a statement.

 

One Response to “Government Shutdown: Lunar and Planetary Institute (Updated)”

  • John Budden says:

    Leonard
    I am furious that such an important institution should be shut down now -especially at such a critical time in Lunar exploration.

    I sent this article to the Institute Of Physics to make a case for radio astronomy’s place in the coldest parts of the Solar System – namely the PSRs on the South Pole of the Moon:

    The article “China makes Historic Moon Landing” makes it clear that we will be colonising our Moon in a decade or so. I should imagine mining ancient reserves of ice and rare earth ores – particularly in the Permanently Shadowed Regions (PSRs) of the South Pole – will be an attractive proposition.
    However China’s Chang’e-4, that landed on Von Karman region at the beginning of the year, will amongst other things, be monitoring low frequency radio signals to see if radio astronomy is feasible from the Moon’s surface.
    A particularly attractive area is the Shackleton crater because it is bounded by a crater rim that is sunlit for 92% of the year (see NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University image 5th Feb 2018) – a reliable source of power for any operation within the crater. However it is fortunate that detailed surveys show that volatiles (water ice) may not be as plentiful there as first thought (Haruyama, J. et al. Lack of exposed ice inside lunar South Pole Shackleton crater. Science 322, 938–939 (2008)). If you look at the detailed profile of Shackleton: https://www.nature.com/articles/nature11216/figures/2 it is enough to make a radio astronomer’s mouth water! It has raised plateaus for Low Frequency Array (LOFAR) dishes, open areas for many Square Kilometre Arrays (SKAs) and an expansive low level area for huge ULF dipole arrays. In addition there are at least 5 other PSRs (Amundsen, Hedervai, Bosch, Idel’son, Wiechert) that show little evidence of having deposits of water ice. These too will be good locations for noise free LOFAR and ULF reception. ULF spectrum could comprise ultra-low energy photons emanating from very highly red shifted sources of EM or magnetic pulses (z ≥ 11).
    Mining interests need have no concerns when they see the following surveys of the Lunar North and South Poles: https://www.pnas.org/content/115/36/8907 . They will recognise that they have a huge choice of other areas to exploit.
    This may seem retrograde almost unglamorous technology compared to the exciting astronomical tools in use today, but I feel it is worth putting forward these three important reasons for reserving these PSRs for radio astronomy:
    1) We need to safeguard Shackleton crater and the 5 PSRs listed above – some of the coldest parts of our Solar system – in the same way as we preserve EM quiet areas for terrestrial astronomy.
    2) LOFAR and ULW Electromagnetic waves do provide an alternative window into ancient areas of our universe (see Low Frequency Radio Astronomy and the LOFAR Observatory G. Heald, J. McKean, R.Pizzo Editors ISBN 978-3-319-23433-5.)
    3) Time is ripe for new cosmic investigative systems – radio should be an important part of future schemes.

    Is there an international forum with teeth that can start protecting these areas well before mining gets underway in earnest?

    Hoping your funding problem is resolved soon

    Best wishes

    John Budden

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