It's not easy to get a clear picture of exactly how the partial government shutdown and the recent return-to-work order are affecting federal military installations in eastern Kern County.

But it's clear it could have been worse.

According to the latest figures, there have historically been about 10,600 employees in various categories working at Edwards Air Force Base, said base spokesman Gary Hatch. Of that number, some 8,500, or 80 percent, have been civilians.

Beyond those hard numbers, the picture begins to look less distinct.

"I don't know how many contractors went home," Hatch said. "I don't know how many have come back."

Significant numbers have certainly returned or will soon return because on Saturday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered most of the nearly 104,000 Air Force civilians placed on emergency furlough nationwide to return to work.

However, a portion of those employees will not yet be able to return, the Air Force News Service reported Monday. Furloughs were eliminated only for employees whose responsibilities "contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of service members."

"There aren't any easy answers," Hatch said. Some will return; others will stay home.

It was clear Monday that NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, located within the borders of the sprawling Air Force Base, was dark.

Telephone greetings from spokespersons at the center informed callers that NASA and the Flight Research Center were closed due to mandatory furloughs. Even NASA Dryden's website was down.

"Due to the lapse in federal government funding, this website is not available," an online message said. It did not, however, explain why a working website had to be disabled.

Across the Mojave Desert to the northeast, Naval Air Weapons Station, China Lake, adjacent to Ridgecrest, appeared to be less directly affected by the shutdown. While some 300 employees of the base proper were furloughed last week, most of them were expected to return following Hagel's recall.

The Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, which includes both the China Lake facility and Naval Base Ventura County at Point Mugu, is a much larger employer than the base proper. The billion-dollar-per-year operation has more than 6,500 employees, and partners with industry, universities and others.

"We weren't affected by the furloughs," said Weapons Division spokesman Ed Roper.

That's because the Weapons Division is "Navy working capital," which means "we earn our own money," Roper said.

For example, if McDonnell Douglas or some other industry partner wanted to test an aircraft or weapons system in China Lake, the company would pay the Weapons Division for its services and unique facilities.

It was that arrangement that made the Weapons Division immune to furloughs.

-- Staff writer Steven Mayer