While the outbreak of the new coronavirus in the United States is worsening, NASA is still advancing major missions, including sending astronauts to the International Space Station. So far, NASA has shown no sign of adjusting its mission, saying the procedures will ensure that astronauts do not bring any disease into space.
NASA has an internal “response framework” for the outbreak. The framework lists four different phases for NASA, each detailing the number of people working from home, the number of visits to NASA facilities, and the number of trips allowed. Currently, nasa’s Ames Research Center and Marshall Space Flight Center have both tested positive for the new coronavirus and are in the third phase of the outbreak, which has led two NASA centers to require employees to work remotely and allow only “mission-critical” personnel to be on site.
The Johnson Space Center (JSC), which oversees NASA’s manned space launch and operation of the International Space Station, is currently in its second phase. The center strongly recommends telecommuting for employees, but there are no mandatory requirements. Various facilities in the centre have been closed.
But while many jSC employees work from home, the april 9 rocket launch mission to send astronauts to the International Space Station has not changed. Russia’s Soyuz rocket will send three astronauts, including NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, to the International Space Station.
NASA said there had been no change in the operation and schedule of the mission. Kazakhstan has effectively closed its borders after reporting the country’s first confirmed case of a new type of coronavirus. It was reported that no one could enter the country except diplomats, returning citizens and government invitees. NASA is still evaluating whether changes are needed to change the way people travel to Kazakhstan.
The biggest concern is that astronauts flying to the International Space Station may carry the virus. But according to NASA, all astronauts entering the space station must go through a two-week quarantine, which is known as a “healthy stabilization period.” In this way, NASA can ensure that astronauts do not have any latent diseases in their bodies before launch. NASA, however, said it would “continue to evaluate and expand the program with international and commercial partners if necessary.”
Meanwhile, Roscosmos, Russia’s national space agency, has decided to stop all media activities surrounding the Launch of the Soyuz and to ban journalists from covering the mission live. Russia will still broadcast the launch live, and NASA will normally broadcast manned launches on network television channels.
Once the launch is over, JSC’s next major mission will be the return of astronauts from the International Space Station. NASA astronauts Andrew Morgan, Jessica Meir and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka will return to Earth aboard the Soyuz spacecraft in mid-April and land in the Kazakh desert. This will require a large number of rescuers to take the astronauts out of the capsule. NASA did not say whether the operation had changed because of the outbreak.
In addition, SpaceX, NASA’s commercial partner, is preparing to send its first astronauts from the U.S. mainland to the International Space Station. Gwynne Shotwell, President of SpaceX, said the company now plans to conduct a manned flight in May. NASA also said astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, who were on the mission, were still training as planned. SpaceX is doing business as usual, with CEO Elon Musk tweeting an email to company employees last week downplaying the threat of a new coronavirus, saying people are far more likely to die in a car accident than the virus.
Of course, the situation at NASA and SpaceX could change quickly. The epidemic is spreading and space launches have been affected. The European main launch centre in French Guiana, South America, will suspend all launches to protect the health of employees and personnel in the region.
The U.S. may also delay the upcoming launch. It just depends on how companies plan to respond and whether the government will take more decisive action.