NASA news: Astronauts placed under quarantine before historic SpaceX launch to the ISS

NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, Michael Hopkins and Japan’s Soichi Noguchi will isolate from the world for 14 days. Their quarantine comes amid a recent uptick in COVID-19 infections across the US. America has been the worst-affected country since the coronavirus emerged nearly one year ago, with more than 9.4 million people infected and more than 232,000 dead in the States.

The pandemic has also not escaped the US space agency, which earlier this year implemented a number of measures to stop the virus from spreading.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine announced in March America was “fighting an invisible enemy”.

He said: “I am grateful to be a part of this tremendous team as we navigate this difficult time together.”

But the pandemic has not been entirely disruptive as NASA has achieved several key milestones since the outbreak.

On July 30, NASA and United Launch Alliance (ULA) launched the Mars Perseverance rover towards Mars on a bold mission to search for signs of life.

And just two months before that, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley flew on the first crewed SpaceX Crew Dragon flight to the space station.

The mission demonstrated SpaceX’s capabilities and marked the first launch of American astronauts from US soil since the Space Shuttle retired in 2011.

But the flight was a safety demonstration and the first operational flight – Crew-1 – is pencilled in to blast off on November 14.

The launch will come at the end of the four astronauts’ mandatory quarantine, which began on October 31.

NASA said: “For crews preparing to launch, ‘flight crew health stabilisation’ is a routine part of the final preparations for all missions to the space station.

“Spending the final two weeks before liftoff in quarantine will help ensure the Crew-1 crew is healthy, protecting themselves and the astronauts already on the space station.

“If they are able to maintain quarantine conditions at home, crew members can choose to quarantine from there until they travel to Kennedy.

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“If they are unable to maintain quarantine conditions at home — for example, if a household member can’t maintain quarantine because of job or school requirements — they have the option of living in the Astronaut Quarantine Facility at Johnson Space Center until they leave for Kennedy.”

Other safety measures were implemented this year because of COVID-19.

Anyone interacting with the astronauts before launch will undergo temperature screenings and will be checked for COVID-19 symptoms.

The four astronauts and people in their immediate vicinity will also be tested for the virus at least twice.

NASA said: “Crew-1 astronauts will become the first crew to fly a full-duration mission to the space station on Crew Dragon for a six-month stay on the orbiting laboratory.

“They are scheduled to arrive at the space station Sunday, November 15, to join NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, as well as Expedition 64 commander Sergey Ryzhikov and flight engineer Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, cosmonauts of the Russian space agency Roscosmos.

“For the first time, the space station’s long-duration crew will expand to seven people with Expedition 54, increasing the amount of crew time available for research.”

The next SpaceX launch to the ISS – Crew-2 – is pencilled in to blast off in 2021 with NASA astronauts Robert Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, Japan’s Akihiko Hoshide and Thomas Pesquet from the European Space Agency (ESA).

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