Emily Barrentine is a NASA Astrophysicist and Planetary Scientist. She spoke during a protest on the southeast lawn of the U.S. Capitol on October 4, 2013.
I’ve worked for NASA for a year and a half. I develop detectors for astrophysics and planetary science instruments. I worked on these projects when I was in graduate school and now I work on them for NASA.
My job’s focus is on the particular part of the instrument that actually detects the light. Depending on the wavelength, the instrument’s design changes, so I work on a variety of different types of very sensitive detectors. The scientists and engineers on my team all have specialty areas that contribute to different parts of the project. It’s a very teamwork-oriented environment.
Most of the projects I’m working on are in the development stages. The goal, eventually, is to put them on flight instruments. Because of funding, there aren’t a lot of flight projects right now. But these detectors could also be on ground instruments, or in balloons. Or they could be in space, eventually.
We’re working on a detector ray that might go on an instrument that would orbit Europa, to help us learn about the surface of Europa and some of the other moons of Jupiter. I’m also working on a team that’s developing what might be a newer and better Hubble Telescope.
Most everyone at NASA is furloughed. The number I’ve heard is that 97% of NASA employees are furloughed. And I heard today that some of the radio telescopes, the ground instruments, are being shut down. So there are far-reaching implications. NASA is involved with universities, and NASA and NSF, the National Science Foundation, which is also affected, are significant funders of academic research. So in terms of science and astronomy, I think everyone is affected right now.
I’m very upset about the furlough, which is why I’m here at the protest. There’s no reason why we should be at home. We all want to do our job, which we think is important for the country.
In terms of how the shutdown has affected me personally, I’m not getting a paycheck. Right now, this is the—Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday—this is the fourth day out of work. If it goes on much more than a few weeks… well, I’m already starting to use my savings to support myself. I’m lucky I have savings. My rent is pretty high, because I live in DC. I can survive, but I’m not happy about using my savings. I would rather use it for other things than supporting myself while I’m unemployed.
I guess I just hope this doesn’t last very long. But I’m a little concerned that the Congress doesn’t seem to think that it’s a very urgent issue. They should be working on behalf of the country and on behalf of the federal employees and everything that makes the country great. What they are doing seems completely unnecessary.
If I could say anything to John Boehner I would say: Many people in the country are being affected by the government shutdown, and you should go right now, have a vote, and pass the budget.