On Saturday, SpaceX is expected to launch a historic flight to and from the International Space Station that will revolutionize space exploration, following an initial delay due to weather concerns.
“It’s hugely exciting,” Chris Hadfield, the first Canadian astronaut to walk on space, said of the launch — but he also said it comes with “enormous” liabilities.
On any given day, there are a variety of medical and safety risks that come with flying people into space, but this year NASA also had to protect their astronauts from the threat of COVID-19.
The SpaceX Demo-2 mission represents a milestone for the U.S., which has not returned to space since the final flight of the Atlantis closed out the space shuttle program in 2011. It will be manned by NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, both of whom the space agency said were selected to be astronauts in the year 2000.
“We’re taking extra precautions,” Steve Stich, deputy manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, said during a press call earlier this month, as reported by The Verge.
“We need to make sure we are separating people as much as possible.”
All over the world, people have been subject to quarantine measures designed to protect the healthy from becoming infected.
But for crews getting ready to launch, NASA said in a statement earlier this month, “‘flight crew health stabilization’ is a routine part of the final weeks before liftoff for all missions to the space station.”
They said Hurley and Behnken entered their pre-flight quarantine together on May 13, where they have been living with their crewmates in “tightly controlled” environments ahead of the launch, as their training makes them “unable to maintain a six-foot distance.”
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Anyone interacting with members of the crew during the quarantine period were screened for temperature and symptoms, they said.
NASA added Hurley and Behnken, as well as those in direct or close contact with the crew, were tested twice for the virus as a precaution.