NASA is preparing to send humans to space as coronavirus pandemic worsens | Tech News

NASA is preparing to send humans to space as coronavirus pandemic worsens

You can go to space but make sure you have no bugs

By: HT CORRESPONDENT
| Updated on: Aug 20 2022, 20:01 IST
Tourists take pictures of a NASA sign at the Kennedy Space Center visitors complex in Cape Canaveral, Florida April 14, 2010. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/Files
Tourists take pictures of a NASA sign at the Kennedy Space Center visitors complex in Cape Canaveral, Florida April 14, 2010. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/Files (REUTERS)
Tourists take pictures of a NASA sign at the Kennedy Space Center visitors complex in Cape Canaveral, Florida April 14, 2010. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/Files
Tourists take pictures of a NASA sign at the Kennedy Space Center visitors complex in Cape Canaveral, Florida April 14, 2010. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/Files (REUTERS)

Coronavirus has been spreading across the globe and the while the scientists search for a cure, NASA has been going ahead with its upcoming mission including some that will send humans to the International Space Station (ISS) in the future.

For now, NASA "does not foresee any changes being made to these missions, and there are "procedures in place to guarantee astronauts do not bring any illnesses with them into space".

NASA also has "its own internal 'response framework' for how it plans to deal with the pandemic". The organization lists for different stages for the agency and each detail the number of people who will work from home, the level of access to NASA facilities and hoe much travel will be allowed.

NASA has two centers right now, the Ames Research Center and the Marshall Space Flight Center, that are on Stage 3 which makes "telework mandatory and only allows 'mission essential' personnel on site at facilities".

The Johnson Space Center (JSC), which operates the ISS and also oversees the human spaceflight launches, is at Stage 2. At that level, teleworking is "strongly encouraged", not mandatory though, and various facilities are closes.

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"The health and safety of NASA's workforce is the agency's top priority. As the coronavirus (COVID-19) concern continues to escalate, NASA is taking steps to ensure its workforce is protected and informed," a NASA spokesperson at JSC said in a statement.

However, as more workers from the JSC stay at home, they are "still looking ahead to the next launch of people to the ISS, which is slated for April 9 out of Kazakhstan. A Russian Soyuz rocket will launch three crew members, including NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, to the station on April 9, where they'll join three others who are already in orbit.

The launch is expected to go as scheduled and NASA has not made any changes to the mission. However, Kazakhstan has effectively closed its borders after reporting the first coronavirus case in the country. "No one can enter the country except for diplomats, returning citizens, and those invited by the country's government, according to Reuters and NASA is still assessing "if changes are needed regarding how personnel will travel to Kazakhstan".

The bigger concern, of course, is that astronauts flying to ISS could carry the virus with them if they do not know they are infected. For this, NASA has a long-held strategy in place that prevents astronauts from carrying any "nasty bugs" to space with them.

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On the other hand, Roscosmos, Russia's state space corporation, has decided to shut down all media activity around the Soyuz launch along with barring journalists from covering the mission in person.

Russia will, however, still live stream the launch and NASA usually airs all of its launches on their own online TV channel.

Post the launch, the next big thing for JSC will be the return of the crew from ISS. NASA astronauts Andrew Morgan, Jessica Meir, and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka are slated to return in a Soyuz capsule landing in the Kazakhstan desert in mid-April. Such landings "typically require large groups of recovery personnel to extract the astronauts from the landed capsule".

However, NASA has more than one upcoming crewed mission planned. NASA's commercial partner SpaceX will be ready to send its first crew of NASA astronauts to the International Space Station soon. This launch is a critical for NASA's Commercial Crew Program since it is an initiative to "develop privately funded vehicles to transport people to and from the ISS". According to reports, "SpaceX has been developing its Crew Dragon capsule for the program, and the first vehicle that will fly a crew of two to the station is already in Florida ahead of its inaugural flight".

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SpaceX is currently targeting May for that flight, according to its president Gwynne Shotwell. NASA also says that "SpaceX's passengers for the mission, astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, are continuing to train for the mission as originally planned". At SpaceX, it seems like things are still moving ahead as planned. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk sent an email last week to employees underplaying the coronavirus threat, "arguing people were more likely to die in a car crash than from the virus".

Also Read: After calling coronavirus panic dumb, Elon Musk says car crashes deadlier than the pandemic

However, situations at both NASA and SpaceX can change quickly. With the coronavirus pandemic evolving, last moment alterations cannot be ruled out. Other space launches are being affected due to the virus - "Europe's primary spaceport in French Guiana, South America is suspending all launches from the site for the foreseeable future, in order to protect the health of employees and people in the area".

It's possible that "upcoming launches from the US could be postponed as well. It just depends on how companies plan to react and if governments take even more decisive action".

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First Published Date: 17 Mar, 17:35 IST
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