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SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule and walkway rests atop a Falcon 9 rocket in Cape Canaveral, Florida on Jan. 3, 2018. Credit: SpaceX.

The partial government shutdown, now in its third week, is taking an increasingly heavy toll on some of the nation's premier science agencies and those that depend on them for their work, funding and in some cases, safety.

Why it matters: The U.S. faces increasing pressure from abroad, particularly from China, to maintain its leadership edge in innovation. The shutdown is hitting numerous science-focused agencies, including the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Standards and Technology, NOAA, NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey.

Between the lines: This week, there are two annual scientific conferences taking place in the U.S. that typically draw top federal science experts: The American Meteorological Society's annual meeting, and the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

The impact on the weather conference in particular is notable: Out of about 4,000 participants, 700 federal experts were forced to cancel their trips at the last minute due to lack of funding, resulting in about 800 canceled presentations.

  • The shutdown "delays a lot of innovative technologies" and "impedes research progress," AMS Executive Director Keith L. Seitter told Axios, pointing to the many collaborations that arise from the meeting.
  • Weather forecasts for the U.S. are less accurate because of the shutdown. At NOAA's Environmental Modeling Center, the hub of weather modeling within the sprawling agency, model upgrades scheduled for February are delayed, and models aren't being fixed in the meantime.
  • The U.S. is widely viewed as having fallen behind other nations, particularly the E.U., when it comes to the accuracy of its main forecast model, known as the GFS.
  • The GFS' accuracy has been running particularly poorly during the shutdown, and no one is on duty to fix whatever is going wrong.

National Weather Service forecasters are working without pay, but training and maintenance at the agency is on hold except for emergencies.

  • This includes courses that require in-depth training in order to fix equipment and for operational forecasting, a NOAA employee told Axios.
  • In addition, outreach from the National Hurricane Center to emergency managers — a crucial link when storms strike — is on hold.

Unknown 2018 temperature ranking: As part of the shutdown, NOAA pulled down its vast climate science databases, affecting scientists beyond the agency. At NOAA and NASA, data processing still needs to take place in order to determine where 2018 fits in the list of warmest years on record, a key indicator of long-term climate change.

Commercial crew delays: This is a critical year for NASA's goal to resume launching astronauts to space from U.S. soil, which hasn't happened since the Space Shuttle era ended in 2011. The agency is banking on private sector contracts with Boeing and SpaceX to accomplish this, but those companies first need to pass rigorous safety tests that were scheduled to begin on Jan. 17, in the case of SpaceX.

  • However, with NASA contractors furloughed, SpaceX's first uncrewed test of its Crew Dragon capsule has been pushed back, as indicated in a recent tweet from CEO Elon Musk.

No grants may mean no students: The NSF has indefinitely suspended reviews of grant proposals, and may delay decisions in awarding funding for postdoctoral fellowships. If that happens, uncertainty will extent to university science departments that offer slots based on funding.

Andrew Dessler, a climate scientist at Texas A&M University, said via Twitter that the shutdown could eliminate spaces for graduate students in 2019.

A tweet previously embedded here has been deleted or was tweeted from an account that has been suspended or deleted.

Private sector wins: The AMS' Seitter said the shutdown ultimately makes federal service less appealing to students who would otherwise look to government agencies as their most rewarding career opportunity.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

1 hour ago - Health

Pfizer-BioNTech: Booster doses more effective at blocking Omicron

Prepared doses of the BioNtech-Pfizer Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine in Germany on Dec. 7. Photo: Thomas Kienzle/AFP via Getty Images

Pfizer and BioNTech said Wednesday that two doses of their COVID-19 vaccine were significantly less effective at neutralizing the Omicron variant in early lab tests, but a three-dose regimen was more effective.

Why it matters: Omicron, which has been labeled a variant of concern by the World Health Organization after being identified by scientists in South Africa last month, has forced vaccine makers to reassess the effectiveness of their vaccines against this specific new form of coronavirus.

Mike Allen, author of AM
1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Biden unveils "Building a Better America" branding

President Biden speaks on infrastructure while visiting a bridge in Woodstock, N.H., last month. Photo: John Tully/Getty Images

President Biden today launched a new website and unveiled bold new branding as part of a nationwide tour to sell the benefits of his infrastructure package.

Why it matters: The White House says passage of the new law shows the ability to "forge bipartisan consensus and prove our democracy can deliver big wins" even in these toxic times.

3 hours ago - World

Olaf Scholz sworn in as German chancellor, succeeding Merkel

Incoming German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is sworn in by Bundestag President Bärbel Bas in Berlin today. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Social Democrat Olaf Scholz was sworn in as chancellor of Germany on Wednesday, succeeding Angela Merkel after 16 years and launching a new era of German and European politics.

Why it matters: Scholz, a center-left pragmatist who served as finance minister and vice chancellor in Merkel's last government, will lead Europe's largest economy in a coalition with the environmentalist Greens and pro-business Free Democrats.