Lockheed Martin Contract on Ice as Government Shutdown Freezes Antarctica Research

The U.S. government's shutdown has reached far and wide, even to Antarctica. The  National Science Foundation (NSF) is putting its three Antarctic scientific stations on standby, calling into question the work of 1,200 scientists  spread across hundreds of projects, as well as the work of contractors like logistics coordinator Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT  ) .

Antarctic operations don't come cheap. The Associated Press reports that the NSF's work on the continent clocks in costing just under $400 million per year. With funding derailed by the shutdown, the NSF will deplete its funds for supporting the U.S. Antarctic Program in the coming days. Researchers study astronomy, particle physics, climate change, and biology in the pristine continent, usually starting in October when the weather warms in the southern spring.

Researchers and scientists quoted by the AP have called the situation "absurd" and the long-term effects on research "devastating."

The NSF has delegated Lockheed Martin to "caretaker status," pushing operations to a bare minimum as the Foundation prepares to run out of cash on Oct. 14. In the company's 2011 press release outlining its Antarctic contract win, Lockheed valued its multiyear contract at around $2 billion, noting its "long-standing history of supporting customers in remote locations."

In email correspondence with The Motley Fool, Lockheed Communications & Public Affairs spokeswoman Lindsay Wilson noted:

We are focused on executing the necessary actions to transition the program into caretaker status, which will ensure the safety of U.S. property in Antarctica and the personnel who care for it. This will entail redeploying personnel whose positions do not meet the definition of mission critical, ensuring research stations have enough fuel, food and supplies to last through the coming months and performing maintenance as required to sustain each station.

On the NSF's website, a blanket statement coldly notes that no new contracts will be issued during the shutdown, and that existing contractors may be instructed to perform activities "only to the minimal extent necessary to address emergency situations."

Lockheed earlier this week said it would have approximately 2,400 employees unable to work because of the shutdown.

-- Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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