After requiring all employees to be forced to telecommute, NASA announced on March 20th that it would temporarily shut down two rocket sites and suspend production and testing of space launch systems (SLS) and Orion spacecraft hardware. The move could affect NASA’s plan to return to the moon.
NASA is closing its Michud assembly plant in New Orleans and the Stannis Space Center in Mississippi as the number of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus increases, NASA Director Jim Bridenstine said in a statement on its website. Bridenstein did not say how long the closure might last.
NASA will suspend production and testing of Space Launch Systems and Orion hardware, the statement said. “All hardware will be shut down in an orderly manner, keeping it safe until work resumes.” “
The suspension of production and testing of the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft is another setback for NASA’s plan to return to the moon.
According to NASA’s program to return to the moon, Artemis, it will send the first female and a male astronaut to the lunar surface by 2024. Under the current lunar landing program, NASA would need to send astronauts to the lunar orbiting space station using a heavy launch vehicle from the Space Launch System (SLS) and a Orion spacecraft, and then use an orbiter and a lunar orbiter to send them to the moon.
The statement noted an increase in confirmed cases in communities around the Stannis Space Center and a confirmed case among NASA staff at the center. There are no confirmed cases at the Michud assembly plant, but according to local and federal guidelines, the number of confirmed cases on the ground will also be temporarily closed.
The temporary shutdown order takes effect March 20, and “NASA crews at both facilities must be telecommuting until further notice.” In addition, all travel is suspended. “During the closure period, access to the Stannis Space Centre and the Michud Assembly Plant will be limited to personnel required for maintenance, and all previously approved field work exceptions will be cancelled and new approvals will be required to enter the center.”
“We realize that this will have an impact on NASA’s mission, but through team analysis and risk reduction efforts, we understand that our top priority is to maintain the health and safety of NASA persons,” jim Bridestine said. “
On March 8 and March 13, nasa’s Ames Research Center in California and the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama each had an employee who tested positive for the new coronavirus, which led to the inclusion of “forced long-range work.”