In Today’s Deep Space Extra… NASA’s response to the coronavirus concern grows. Work at two NASA facilities crucial to the assembly and test of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion crew capsule has been suspended. However, the launches of NASA’s next astronaut to the International Space Station (ISS) and his two Russian colleagues in April and the July launch of the Perseverance Mars 2020 rover remain on track.
Human Space Exploration
Work on SLS and Orion suspended at Stennis and Michoud due to coronavirus
Spacepolicyonline.com (3/19): Late Thursday, NASA issued a statement from Administrator Jim Bridenstine suspending on site work at the agency’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and the Stennis Space Center in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, facilities where the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion are undergoing production and testing in preparation for joint test flights as part of efforts to accelerate a human return to the surface of the Moon in 2024. Until further notice, employees are to telework and meet virtually. One worker at Stennis has a confirmed case of coronavirus, while the numbers of those infected in the community around Michoud are rising. Both facilities are deemed Stage 4. On Tuesday, Bridenstine placed all NASA facilities at Stage 3, mandating that all employees telework, with access to onsite work places permitted to mission essential personnel only. Stage 4 is the most restrictive for NASA workforce in response to the virus.
Coronavirus restrictions stop astronaut’s family from attending launch
Coalition Member in the News – Boeing
CBS News (3/19): Preparing in Star City, Russia, for a Soyuz launch to the International Space Station (ISS) with two cosmonauts on April 9, NASA astronaut and Navy SEAL Chris Cassidy is dealing with many of the same anxieties over the threat of the coronavirus as those bound to Earth. Cassidy and his Russian colleagues have prepared for a six and a half month mission. Cassidy will occupy the last Soyuz seat purchased by NASA from Russia for an ISS flight, though NASA is negotiating with Russia for another in October. The three fliers could be the only crew aboard the normally six to seven person orbiting science lab when three others on the Station end their mission in mid-April. However, NASA is working with Boeing and SpaceX to initiate commercial crew transportation to and from the orbiting science lab this year. SpaceX could attempt a test flight of the Dragon 2 with a pair of NASA astronauts as soon as mid to late May. Because of global concerns over the coronavirus, Cassidy, Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner will launch next month from Kazakhstan without family and friends to cheer them on.
How will NASA deal with the Moon dust problem for Artemis lunar landings?
Space.com (3/19): Rising dust and surface debris are a lingering concern from NASA’s Apollo era Moon landings. As NASA develops a strategy for an accelerated return of human explorers to the lunar surface in 2024, experts are looking into the construction of landing pads for missions that repeatedly visit a lunar outpost.
Buzz Aldrin has some advice for Americans in quarantine
Ars Technica (3/17): Apollo 11’s Buzz Aldrin has some friendly advice for the growing numbers of folks dealing with self-isolation to deal with coronavirus concerns. After his history making July 1969 mission to the Moon with Neil Armstrong and Mike Collins, the three astronauts underwent three weeks of quarantine to prevent the possible spread of lunar contagions. Now 90, Aldrin was quizzed on how he’s dealing with the coronavirus concern. “Lying on my ass and locking the door”, he replied.
Meet the adventurer: Steve Smith on space and perseverance
National Geographic (3/19): Smith, a former NASA shuttle astronaut, explains his transition from a youngster raised in California who overcame a youthful near death experience to become a space traveler. He flew four shuttle missions and conducted seven spacewalks, using his skills to upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope. “When you see the Earth from overhead, it looks like an island in a vast ocean,” he reminisces. “It strikes you that we need to take care of the island; we need to love Mother Earth.”
“Overstressed” NASA Mars exploration budget threatens missions
SpaceNews.com (3/19): Despite coronavirus concerns, an update on preparations for a July launch of NASA’s Mars 2020 rover, recently named Perseverance, remain on track, according to a virtual agency “town hall” briefing on Thursday and other recent developments. However, Perseverance is 21 percent over its 2017 development baseline, affecting other Mars missions. Options are to end contributions to the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Mars Express orbiter, end operations of NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter, launched in 2001, and to reduce the budget for the Curiosity rover from $51.1 million in 2019 to zero after 2021.
Japan’s asteroid-smashing probe reveals a surprisingly young space rock
Space.com (3/19): The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) Hayabusa 2 asteroid sample return mission to Ryugu is providing scientists with new insights into the composition of planetary building blocks. Ryugu is an example of early era carbon rich asteroids. Thanks in part to an effort by Hayabusa 2 to collect a sample of subsurface material in 2019, the spacecraft deployed an explosive charge onto the surface. Studies suggest the surface material is relatively young and porous though the asteroid itself is believed to contain materials about 4.6 billion years old. The observations suggest Ryugu is actually a rubble pile. Details on the evaluations were published this week in the journals Science and Nature. The spacecraft is to return to Earth late this year with samples after a six year mission.
Virgin Orbit working toward first launch, schedule reassessed amid pandemic
Coalition Member in the News – Boeing
SpaceNews.com (3/19): Virgin Orbit, in a critical phase of preparations for the first launch of its Launcher One, is reassessing prior plans for an April flight in response to coronavirus concerns. Launcher One rockets, manufactured in Long Beach, California, are to be launched from a modified Boeing 747-400 aircraft called “Cosmic Girl”.
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