NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine shared updates in a press release about how the agency has been managing the impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19). The past weeks, NASA announced visitor center closures and issued an order for the majority of personnel to work from home. All in an effort to help slow down the spread of COVID-19. Only staff who work on the agency's most important missions will show up to work. Bridenstine said in a statement:
"We are going to take care of our people. That’s our first priority. Technology allows us to do a lot of what we need to do remotely, but, where hands-on work is required, it is difficult or impossible to comply with CDC guidelines while processing spaceflight hardware, and where we can’t safely do that we’re going to have to suspend work and focus on the mission critical activities."
On Friday, NASA shared details about what missions have been impacted in its space program. Some missions have been temporarily suspended.
Important missions that will continue operations are: The Commercial Crew Program, which will launch two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) on SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft. The mission is referred to as Demo-2; A Falcon 9 rocket will carry Astronaut Bob Behnken and Dough Hurley aboard Dragon with vital supplies to the ISS orbiting laboratory. Personnel involved in vital aspects of the Demo-2 mission is still required to go to work, the agency says that this mission is important because it will keep Expedition 62 astronauts, who are currently at the space station, -"fully supplied and safe." The Dragon spacecraft will be launched with vital cargo, including food and water to the space station. NASA considers Commercial Crew Program operations as -"A critical element to maintaining safe operations on the International Space Station and a sustained U.S. presence on the orbiting laboratory."
SpaceX and NASA announced earlier this week that the Demo-2 mission will take place sometime in "mid-to-late May." It will be the first manned rocket flight from American soil in almost a decade!
Our leadership is assessing the mission impacts of coronavirus. To protect the health and safety of our workforce as the nation responds, the first assessment of work underway across all missions, projects, and programs was recently completed. More: https://t.co/L9csDWhbwJ pic.twitter.com/dI5KxF8Lxm— NASA (@NASA) March 20, 2020
NASA officials shared that staff have limited access to astronauts in training, to not compromise their health during this Coronavirus pandemic that has rapidly spread around the globe.
The agency will also maintain a constant human presence the Mission Control Center at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, to maintain communication with crew members in space. Though, its adding "additional measures" to keep employees healthy at work.
On April 9, Russia will launch NASA Astronaut Chris Cassidy to the space station along with two Russian cosmonauts. The astronauts will be in quarantine for two weeks before the mission to ensure they won't take any infectious diseases to the space station. This quarantine is not strictly due to the current coronavirus outbreak, it is a routine protocol done before every flight to space. Though, astronaut's family nor public will be able to watch them launch to space from Russia, due to the coronavirus situation.
NASA missions that are temporarily suspended due to the COVID-19 outbreak include: The development of the Space Launch System (SLS), which is a massive rocket-ship that will ferry astronauts to the lunar surface during the Artemis mission scheduled for 2024. The Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana and the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, are NASA facilities where the SLS cores and other parts are manufactured have been shutdown, because two employees tested positive for COVID-19. Travel is suspended for all staff and telework is mandatory.
NASA stated that additional work related to the Artemis program can be done by employees from home. "Assembly and processing work is continuing on the Artemis II Orion spacecraft" due to the fact that engineers already work "as a virtual team to conduct engineering analysis and other work, and it has seen minimal impact from the requirement for mandatory telework. [...]" The agency said in a press release:
"However, any on-site activity beyond securing hardware is temporarily suspended until further notice."
The James Webb Space Telescope team in California is also suspending operations. California authorities issued a 'shelter-in-place' order which asks everyone to stay at home to stop coronavirus from spreading across communities. NASA stated that they will resume operations depending on how the situation unfolds: "Decisions could be adjusted as the situation continues to unfold over the weekend and into next week. The decision was made to ensure the safety of the workforce. The observatory remains safe in its clean room environment."
The agency is following their pandemic response framework that was built based on strict Centers of Disease Control (CDC) guidelines. NASA detailed how they are all managing the situation at all its facilities, "Most of the agency remains under a Stage 3 status, with mandatory telework for all employees with limited exceptions for on-site work. Ames, Michoud, and Stennis [facilities] are at Stage 4 with personnel on-site to protect life and critical infrastructure." NASA spokesperson wrote, "NASA leadership continues to monitor developments regarding COVID-19 around the nation and follow the guidance from the White House Coronavirus Task Force, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and local and state health officials in order to keep the NASA community safe."