Coronavirus news: How disease stopped Europe from sending a rover to Mars

A joint mission from the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian space agency Roscosmos has plans to send the ExoMars 2020 rover to Mars this year. However, due to the global outbreak of COVID-19, which has seen more than 160,000 people infected, the launch has been postponed for two years.

This is because there are issues with some of the electronics in the robot, and a hardware concern for the solar panels.

At a normal time, this would not be an issue, but with borders being closed and countries being put on shut down, neither the engineers nor the parts are readily available.

Monica Grady, a professor of planetary and space science from the Open University, wrote for The Conversation: “Each of the hardware issues could be solved, as could problems with software – but in combination, there was too great a risk that the time remaining before the launch was too short to ensure full and thorough final testing.

“And then, on top of all this: the novel coronavirus.

“Just look back at the list of countries that have contributed to the build of the spacecraft. The final staging place before moving to the launch site is Turin, in northern Italy, where illness from coronavirus has practically closed the country and brought movement across its borders to a halt.

“Engineers from the UK, France, Russia and the US (at the very least) will be needed alongside those in Italy for the final testing.

“Given restrictions on travel and movement of personnel, postponement of the launch became inevitable.

“It is somewhat ironic that only last week NASA announced that the name of its rover, to be launched as part of the Mars 2020 mission, was to be ‘Perseverance’.

“It seems that for ESA and Roscosmos, perseverance is not enough – and it is even more ironic that a mission specifically designed to search for life on another planet has been brought low by a simple virus on Earth.”

NASA has also begun the process of slowing down its affairs.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine has closed some of the space agency’s facilities, which could halt vital production of near missions such as the Mars 2020 rover.

The Ames research centre in California has been closed following an onsite case of COVID-19, while all of its other facilities at “stage two” of NASA’s response framework. Stage two sees people to work from home where possible and to cancel all meetings and visitors.

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