NASA During Coronavirus Pandemic
NASA has sketched an internal ‘response framework’ on how it plans to deal with the pandemic in four different stages. This includes the number of people working from home, the level of access to NASA facilities, and how much travel will be permitted. Currently, two NASA Centers, namely the Ames Research Center and Marshall Space Flight Center are on Stage 3.
NASA signaled the Stage 3 phase after employees tested positive for coronavirus at both these centers. Stage 3 means telework is mandatory and entry is permitted to ‘mission-essential’ personnel at site facilities.
Apart from these centers, the NASA Johnson Space Center is at Stage 2. It should be noted that the Johnson Space Center is where the agency’s human spaceflight launches and ISS operations are chalked out. Here, teleworking is encouraged, if not mandatory. A few facilities are shut down.
“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.
NASA Continues Human Spaceflight Missions
Despite the coronavirus scare, NASA is still looking ahead to the next launch, where astronauts will be sent off to ISS. The launch is scheduled for April 9 out of Kazakhstan. A Russian Soyuz rocket will launch three crew members, including NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, to the station, where they’ll join three people already in orbit.
NASA says the launch is still on and hasn’t made any changes to the operations. The next milestone for the space agency is the return crew from ISS. NASA astronauts Andrew Morgan, Jessica Meir, and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka are slated to return to Earth in a Soyuz capsule in mid-April, landing in the Kazakhstan desert.
Every crew landing requires large groups of recovery personnel to extract the astronauts from the landed capsule. So far, NASA hasn’t given away any details if this operation would change in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic, but a reschedule is expected.