In a re-evaluation of what must be sustained and what must be suspended across NASA operation centers, the space agency has decided that work at its James Webb Space Telescope must halt for coronavirus to pass over. Other activities associated with the International Space Station (ISS) will, however, proceed on schedule.
With the cessation of work at James Webb Space Telescope, NASA did not say when work will resume at the center. They, however, made it clear that government policies and the COVID-19 situation will determine how long work will be suspended at the center. The James Webb Space Telescope is the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope.
Scheduled resupply missions to the ISS will proceed as usual since astronauts aboard the station must-have supplies to continue their research work in space. To further protect the health of flight controllers, NASA initiated protocols for those at the Johnson Space Center in Houston and others working at the mission control center.
Despite the development with coronavirus, NASA said its Commercial Crew Program and its Mars 2020 mission remain top priorities. The agency’s supercomputing resources will also remain online for a seamless space operation across the board.
Meanwhile, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and the Stennis Space Center in nearby Hancock County, Mississippi, will be closed down because of high cases of coronavirus infection in the area. The space administrator justified this decision with the case of an employee who tested positive for the disease.
“We realize there will be impacts on NASA missions, but as our teams work to analyze the full picture and reduce risks we understand that our top priority is the health and safety of the NASA workforce,” Bridenstine said.
The closure of the two rocket production facilities constitutes a setback to NASA’s plan of sending astronauts to the moon and Mars by 2024. Bridenstine said the facilities had been working on developing the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion crew vehicle that would transport Americans to far space, but the threats of COVID-19 requires that NASA “temporarily suspend production and testing of Space Launch System and Orion hardware.”
With the spread of coronavirus, all 11 NASA centers have been elevated to Stage 3 contingency plans which requires that many staff work from home except those directly work with the SLS and other mission-essential projects. Both the Michoud Assembly Facility and the Stennis Space Center were elevated to Stage 4 protocol which is the highest level for a shutdown after the employee tested positive to COVID-19.