The joint NASA and SpaceX venture will mark the first launch of US astronauts into space from American soil since 2011. But the Demo-2 launch cannot go ahead if its two crew members do not follow strict quarantine protocols. And with the coronavirus sweeping across the globe, NASA will pay extra attention to secure the wellbeing of its astronauts.
NASA said: “Due to the coronavirus pandemic, people all over the world recently have experienced varying degrees of quarantine – a period of isolation from others to prevent the spread of contagious illness.
“However, for crews getting ready to launch, ‘flight crew health stabilization’ is a routine part of the final weeks before liftoff for all missions to the space station.”
NASA’s astronauts entered quarantine on May 13, just in time for the scheduled May 27 launch of Demo-2.
Weather permitting, the astronauts will fly a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule to the International Space Station (ISS).
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Isolating for two weeks before liftoff will ensure the astronauts will not carry any diseases into space that could threaten their mission or the health of their colleagues on the ISS.
NASA said: “Since Hurley and Behnken are training side by side and will be working and living as a team on the space station with their crewmates, they’re unable to maintain a six-foot distance.
“NASA’s quarantine rules are designed to protect astronaut crews while allowing them to continue working closely together, by limiting who can be in close proximity to them and ensuring they stay in environments in which their exposure to contagions or other hazardous materials can be tightly controlled in advance of their launch.”
If possible, astronauts have the opportunity to spend quarantine at home.
Another option is to stay at the Astronaut Quarantine Facility at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
NASA’s quarantine rules are designed to protect astronaut crews
As a result of the coronavirus, NASA is taking extra precautions to shield its astronauts.
Anyone who will come in contact with Mr Hurley and Mr Behnken will be screened for temperature and symptoms.
The coronavirus, which attacks the lungs, typically triggers symptoms such as dry cough and fever.
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NASA said: “Hurley and Behnken, as well as those in direct, close contact with the crew will be tested twice for the virus as a precaution.”
The health procedures were introduced by NASA for the Apollo programme and were used throughout the Space Shuttle programme.
Mr Hurley and Mr Behnken are both two-time Space Shuttle flight veterans.
Since the end Space Shuttle programme in 2011, NASA has relied on Russia’s Roscosmos agency to launch crews into orbit.
But each seat on a Russian Soyuz rocket came with a hefty price of up to £74million ($90million), forcing NASA to seek commercial alternatives in the US.
Under its Commercial Crew Programme, the agency hired SpaceX and Boeing to design and build spacecraft for NASA.
On May 27, SpaceX will test and prove the reliability of its spacecraft after previously docking it to the ISS.
The Demo-1 launch in January 2019 saw the reusable Crew Dragon capsule remotely dock to the space station.
NASA said: “Behnken and Hurley will be the first American astronauts to fly to the station aboard an American spacecraft launched from American soil since the retirement of the Space Shuttle programme in 2011.”
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