Within hours since the news broke that the partial government shutdown would throw a cloak of virtual silence over the historic mission to the farthest planetary body ever explored, NASA announced it would turn the lights on and broadcast New Horizon’s New Year’s Day flyby of Ultima Thule.
On Thursday night, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine sent a tweet to his tens of thousands of followers that NASA’s New Horizons social media accounts will continue operating despite the shutdown since the activities were “forward funded.”
Though there seems to be no end in sight to the partial government shutdown and there are currently only 3,000 NASA employees working or “on call” without pay, NASA will still have its social media accounts and NASA TV operating for the first close look at Ultima Thule next Tuesday.
Expect to see the @NASANewHorizons social media accounts continue to operate. The contract for these activities was forward funded. This applies to @OSIRISREx and NASA TV too. @NASA will continue to stun the world with its achievements!
— Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) December 28, 2018
On Dec. 26, NASA and NASA New Horizon’s twitter account both tweeted out letting the public know to follow updates of the mission with their partner, John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory instead of their own.
New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern confirmed to FLORIDA TODAY Friday that NASA’s social media accounts were going to be back online for them. Stern had told FLORIDA TODAY Thursday it would be a shame if this memorable mission would be kept in the dark due to the government shutdown.
“It’s the farthest exploration of worlds in history and without NASA able to get the word out, I think it’s going to be very much diminished for the public and that’s an unintended consequence of this shutdown,” he said.
If all goes according to plan, on New Year’s Day, Pluto will no longer be the most distant piece of rock in our solar system on which we’ve cast our eyes. The plucky little probe — not much bigger than a grand piano — is set to fix its cameras on Ultima Thule, a planetary body about the size of Orlando in a region beyond Pluto.
It will be the most distant and primitive object to be explored by humanity yet and will bring scientists one step closer to understanding the formation processes of how our solar system formed billions of years ago.
Though people can now continue to enjoy the coverage through NASA’s New Horizons twitter account and NASA TV, APL will continue providing coverage in their own YouTube channel, as well as with Stern’s personal twitter account and New Horizon’s account.
People can tune into Stern’s twitter feed at @NewHorizons2015 or @AlanStern for live updates of the mission. APL will also broadcast on Periscope next week as the spacecraft approaches Ultima Thule and people can watch live press conferences starting Dec. 31 on their website (pluto.jhuapl.edu).
This article originally appeared on Florida Today: NASA turns lights back on for New Horizons mission to Ultima Thule