Despite everything from museums, libraries and national parks being closed during the government shutdown, one good thing did happen to get done: NASA was able to use an emergency exception to salvage their $650 million mission to Mars.
NASA is sending a probe to Mars for their Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution orbiter (MAVEN) mission, which will investigate the carbon-dioxide in the Martian atmosphere to help determine how it changed over time and if the planet will be able to support life. The probe is now scheduled to take off on November 18th, after NASA feared that they would have to delay the mission until 2016 when Mars and Earth are in the right alignment. "We have already restarted spacecraft processing at Kennedy Space Center, working toward being ready to launch on Nov. 18," said MAVEN principal investigator Bruce Jakosky of the University of Colorado, Boulder. "We will continue to work over the next couple of days to identify any changes in our schedule or plans that are necessary to stay on track."
NASA was forced to furlough 97-percent of its workforce during the government shutdown, but the mission qualified for an emergency exception due to its importance as being a point of communication between the Curiosity and Opportunity rovers (both currently on Mars) and Earth. The rovers are currently supported by the Mars Odyssey Orbiter launched in 2001 and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter launched in 2005, and a 2013 launch of MAVEN will help keep communication going between us and the rovers. MAVEN is now scheduled to arrive in Mars' orbit in September 2014, and will use eight scientific instruments to study the planet's atmosphere for one Earth year, which is about half of a year on Mars.