The next mission to the International Space Station is scheduled for April. Until then, astronauts must be quarantined to avoid contact with the coronavirus.
With the Covid-19 pandemic reaching dozens of countries around the world, NASA experts fear that the new coronavirus will reach the International Space Station (ISS). That’s because a mission scheduled for April 9 intends to send three astronauts to space.
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Because of this, NASA’s Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Ivan Vagner and Anatoly Ivanishin are prohibited from leaving the Star City training facility outside Moscow, as they are under extreme quarantine. Regular quarantines are a standard procedure at space agencies around the world: astronauts stay under observation for two weeks before being launched into space to ensure they are not sick.
This procedure is known as “health stabilization” and is especially important for astronauts, as everyday life in microgravity can affect the immune system. “The teams are not making trips, even traditional ones, like visiting the Kremlin wall and Sergei Korolyov’s house, on the eve of the departure for [launch base] Baikonur,” said Pavel Vlasov, director of Star City, according to the New York Post.
But while quarantine is a standard procedure, NASA is adhering to infection control recommendations made by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to fight the spread of the new coronavirus. “This includes cleaning surfaces, social distance, emphasizing hand hygiene, encouraging sick NASA team members to stay at home and limiting contact with the crew,” said Brandi Dean, a spokesman for the space agency, to Space.com.
Russia’s space agency Roscosmos and NASA also discuss increasing the group’s quarantine time before the April launch. “We expect them [Roscosmos] to take additional steps to ensure that the quarantine is a little more severe,” NASA manager Kirk Shireman told Space News. “We are ready to deal with this, if it happens.”