The more than 16,000 NASA employees still out of work as the federal government shutdown stretched into day five do not support it, a union representing federal workers said Wednesday -- despite President Donald Trump's claims that they do.
"We have not heard from a single member who supports the president's inaction," the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers said in a statement Wednesday. "Most view this as an act of ineptitude."
On Saturday, a partial government shutdown -- which includes NASA, the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security -- went into effect as Trump held firm on his demands that Congress provide funds for a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. The shutdown impacts 800,000 of the 2.1 million federal workers nationwide, including 16,700 NASA employees, which accounts for 96 percent of the workforce.
READ MORE: Workers, parks, NASA to bear brunt of shutdown
Trump has argued that federal workers support the shutdown, saying Tuesday, "Many of those workers have said to me and communicated, 'stay out until you get the funding for the wall.' These federal workers want the wall, " according to an ABC News story published on Christmas Day.
In its statement, the union said Trump needs to stop "gambling with the lives of federal workers."
"If the president wants to gamble, perhaps he should go back to running casinos," the statement said.
Although most of NASA's employees will be furloughed, those responsible for keeping people and property safe are exempted from the shutdown.
For example, International Space Station operations will continue: about 200 of the 3,055 federal employees at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston will continue working primarily to keep the three astronauts aboard the space station alive.
Additionally, planned spaceflight events, such as OSIRIS-REx's Dec. 31 orbit of the asteroid Bennu, will happen as planned. If the shutdown lasts until that time, however, the public will not be able to count on NASA to publicize it and keep them up to date.
"Citizens will not have televised access to NASA operations and programming or access to the NASA Web site," NASA's current shutdown plan states.
Launched in 2016, OSIRIS-REx (short for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer) is the first U.S. mission set to bring asteroid samples back to Earth. It will return to earth in 2023.
Individuals interested in following along New Year's Eve should keep tabs on the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory's Twitter account, @UALAL or check its non-government website, asteroidmission.org. The University of Arizona also will issue news releases on its website.
Furloughed employees will only get paid for the shutdown period if Congress approves it -- which it has done in the past. Those exempt from the shutdown will only get paid after the president signs off on a funding plan.
NASA eventually will return to full operations, but The Planetary Society, a nonprofit involved in space research, questioned in a web post Saturday how long the best and brightest will stay at NASA if these constant political disruptions continue. This is the third federal government shutdown of 2018, and the Trump administration has indicated that it could stretch into 2019.
"If this frequency of shutdowns continues, I fear that we will see more and more NASA employees ask themselves why they put up with such needless disruptions and leave for jobs the private sector," the post stated.
Alex Stuckey writes about NASA and the environment for the Houston Chronicle. You can reach her at [email protected] or Twitter.com/alexdstuckey.