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NASA

Of all the government agencies, NASA is among the hardest hit by the government shutdown. As of Oct. 1, nearly all of its employees have been told to pack up and head home.

If ET wants to phone home, this is not the week to do it. NASA's phone lines are down, as are its website and many Twitter feeds. All have been silenced by the government shutdown, whose far-reaching consequences are now stretching into space.

The shutdown began on Tuesday, after Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives failed to come to an agreement over the federal budget. Most of the government's nonessential services have ground to a halt, and among the hardest hit agencies is NASA.

There's some sad news from NASA: The space agency says its Kepler space telescope is beyond repair.

The $600 million planet-hunting probe whose mission was to search other solar systems for Earth-like planets has lost its ability to keep its gaze on target.

Two of the four gyroscope-like reaction wheels that keep Kepler pointed in the right direction have broken down and can't be fixed, but NASA is still hoping it can find some less-stressful work for the orbiting observatory.

Not many children write letters to government entities, we would think. But a boy's letter to NASA is making waves and softening hearts on the Internet today.

"Dear NASA," the letter begins. "My name is Dexter I heard that you are sending 2 people to Mars and I would like to come but I'm 7." The handwritten note, in which Dexter asks for advice about becoming an astronaut, got a full response from NASA, along with some stickers and posters.

NASA is sending a reliable servant into a retirement that will end with a fiery re-entry into Earth's atmosphere in about 65 years. That's the fate that awaits the Galaxy Evolution Explorer, the "galaxy hunter" space telescope whose original 29-month mission was extended to more than 10 years.

Along the way, the orbiting system, known as GALEX, helped scientists study how galaxies and stars are born, and how they change over time.

Visitors to the new Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center walk into the building under a big orange external fuel tank like the one the shuttle rode into space.

The tank's a replica — but the shuttle inside is the real deal.

People who worked on the shuttle program, like retired technician Tom Boarman, are looking forward to reuniting with Atlantis.

"Well, it will be a very familiar sight to me," Boarman said. "I've seen it on the pad many times — all the shuttles."

It won't be quite like Bruce Willis in Armageddon, but maybe you'll feel just as much a hero.

The White House and NASA are seeking the public's help in hunting for asteroids that could someday smash into Earth. They're also looking for a perfect space rock to capture so that astronauts could go there and study it.

You probably know that Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon. But that guy in all the pictures from the first moon landing? That's Buzz Aldrin. So here's a lesson for you all: It doesn't matter if you're the first guy out of the spaceship, just as long as you make the other guy hold the camera.

So sure, Aldrin has been to the moon, but what does he know about mooning? We've invited him to play a game called "Drop your pants and take a bow" — three questions about exposing one's buttocks.

Hey, we were told in the '60s that we'd grow up to be astronauts if we drank Tang and that our heroes loved it!

But the second man on the moon — Apollo 11's Buzz Aldrin — says "Tang sucks."

TMZ.com broke the news that Aldrin let loose with his real opinion during taping of Spike TV's Guys Choice awards, which airs Thursday at 9 p.m. ET.

In the late 1950s, after the Soviet Union successfully put their satellite, Sputnik 1, into orbit, American fears over the Communist threat reached a new height. The U.S. was trailing badly in a competition that would come to define the next decade – the race to space.

So on April 9, 1959, the U.S. kicked off its own space age by introducing the country to its first astronauts, known as the Mercury Seven. Their story is well known, but the story of their wives is often overlooked.

Two astronauts went on a last-minute spacewalk Saturday to replace a pump suspected of being the source of a serious ammonia leak.

It was unclear what caused the ammonia leak, NASA spokesman Rob Navias said, "but the installation of this spare pump package — at least at the moment — seems to have done the trick."

NASA officials called the spacewalk a success, but said it would take time to see if the leak was indeed stopped. Engineers will review photos the astronauts took at the site.

NASA.gov

When the White House unveils its fiscal year 2014 budget next week, prepare to have your mind blown. The financial estimate includes about $100 million for something most of us have only imagined.

Are we talking about a lifetime supply of hoagies from Wawa, the trendy convenience store chain that was met with great fanfare when it recently opened its first Tampa Bay locations? Nope. Think bigger... and farther. The money will help human beings get closer to establishing a permanent settlement in space. That's according to U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who apparently got the inside scoop during a briefing with scientists.

NASA

It's a somber day on Florida's east coast, as Kennedy Space Center holds a Day of Remembrance on the 10-year anniversary of the space shuttle Columbia disaster.

The morning of Feb. 1, 2003, the shuttle Columbia was just 16 minutes from landing when it broke apart in mid-air, killing all seven crew members.

Today at 10 a.m., the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex held a ceremony honoring those lost on the Columbia, as well as on the ill-fated Apollo 1 in 1967 and Challenger in 1986. In a statement on NASA's website, Pres. Barack Obama said of the fallen astronauts, "Right now we are working to fulfill their highest aspirations by pursuing a path in space never seen before, one that will eventually put Americans on Mars."

Last month, NASA released this video tribute to the Columbia crew:

In this video, we are flying over the Earth, looking down and seeing what astronauts see when it's nighttime, when lightning storms flash like June bugs, when cities look like galaxies, when you can see where people are. It's quietly astonishing.

This montage of space footage was assembled and narrated by NASA scientist Justin Wilkinson. There's another one, which takes us around the Earth in daytime.

Courtesy US Air Force

The Global Hawk drone is known for raining fire in war zones far from the United States. But now, NASA is using the planes to check out hurricanes, as reported in Florida Today.

NASA Ames Research Center

It was 40 years ago today when NASA launched Pioneer 10 from Cape Canaveral.  

The robotic space probe was launched on March 2, 1972 on a mission to study Jupiter and the asteroid belt.  

Pioneer 10 eventually became the first spacecraft from Earth to leave our solar system and enter deep space.  With that in mind, scientists placed a recorded greeting on board -- along with a plaque that includes a map of Earth's location.

Eventually someone might find that map.  Pioneer 10 is expected to arrive at the constellation Taurus in 2 million years.

Twenty-five years ago, an event occurred that is seared into the memory of most Americans: About a minute after liftoff, the space shuttle Challenger blew apart, killing all aboard, including teacher-astronaut Christa McAuliffe.

The day started off innocently enough. It was unusually cold in Florida that day, but NASA managers decided to attempt a launch anyway. As a subsequent investigation made clear, the cold temperature made O-rings, which were intended to contain hot gases, fail on the solid rocket boosters.

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