The coronavirus crisis and the universe

US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — A Russian and two Americans are currently flying around 400 kilometers around the world with the International Space Station ( ISS ) – far from the Corona crisis.

“With regard to the coronavirus, the ISS is currently probably one of the safest places,” Luis Zea from the University of Colorado in Boulder is quoted by the magazine  Newsweek. What about other space projects? An overview.

ISS space station

“Activities here will continue no matter what happens on Earth,” says US astronaut Andrew Morgan. He works with his colleagues Jessica Meir and Oleg Skripochka on the outpost of humanity. Support will soon come from Earth – and it must be avoided that these three space travelers carry the virus into the station.

Therefore, before their flight to the ISS scheduled for April 9, the two Russians and the Americans in the cosmonaut training center in the star town near Moscow are largely isolated. Most of the usual rituals were canceled: no flowers on the Kremlin walls, no visit to the home of the Soviet rocket designer Sergei Korolyov. There was one exception: the astronauts visited the monument to Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space , and his study in a museum.

“Although space flights always involve a special risk, we understand quite well that the ISS will be the safest place in the coming months,” says cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin.

“We are healthy, the team is examined very carefully by medical personnel,” says astronaut Christopher Cassidy. The two astronauts will launch into space together with the Russian Iwan Wagner in early April. The crew should stay there for 196 days.

It is hard to imagine how things will continue on earth during this time. However, it is already clear that there are effects on numerous space projects.

Because of the pandemic, there are currently no more launches from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana, South America. The Russian space agency Roscosmos also moved most of its employees from there. The Russian spaceport Baikonur in the ex-Soviet republic of Kazakhstan, however, continues to work according to plan. Roscosmos boss Dmitri Rogosin emphasized that the launches should continue in the future. Only journalists are no longer admitted to the otherwise carefully staged starts. For years, Roscosmos has been the only space agency that can offer manned flights to the ISS.

“Technology allows us to do a lot of what we need to do remotely,” said NASA chief Jim Bridenstine. The ISS and all current missions in space could be further coordinated. The situation is different for missions that are still in the planning and construction phase. Where it is not possible to work safely on site, “we have to stop it temporarily,” says Bridenstine.

This affects, for example, the Space Launch System and Orion, the rocket and the space capsule that NASA wanted to use to bring astronauts to the moon within the next five years. The schedule for the James Webb telescope, which was supposed to start in 2021, should also be delayed, as should the start of the Mars rover “Perseverance”, which is planned for summer. It remains to be seen whether NASA and the private space company SpaceX can actually bring two astronauts to the ISS in May, as announced.

Coronavirus evidence has been found among employees in at least two NASA research centers in the United States. With a few exceptions, all employees are encouraged to work from home.

The plans of the European Space Agency (Esa) cannot always go on as planned. The European Space Flight Control Center (ESOC) in Darmstadt has only one fuselage crew. An average of 30 of the 900 employees currently work in the control center. “That is the minimum,” says Deputy Head of ESOC Paolo Ferri. Instruments had been switched off on four satellites. Tests in the course of the “Solar Orbiter” solar mission, which had only recently started, were also discontinued.

The caution is also due to the approaching earth flyby of the Mercury probe BepiColombo. “We mustn’t put them at risk.” This is a delicate phase in which precise control must be carried out – one should not risk that other staff members of the hull crew have to be quarantined. “We cannot control the satellites from home.” Technically, this would be possible in principle, but the risk would simply be too great.

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The article is written and prepared by our foreign editors from different countries around the world – material edited and published by Ordo News staff in our US newsroom press.