NASA stops work on Moon rocket after confirmed coronavirus case

NASA stops work on its Moon rocket and shuts down the facility where the Space Launch System is being built after an employee tests positive for the deadly coronavirus

  • The space agency is shutting the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans
  • It is also shutting the Stennis Space Centre in Mississippi 45 miles from Michoud
  • The massive Space Launch System rocket is being built at those two facilities
  • This rocket is being designed to get the Orion lunar spacecraft off the Earth 
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

NASA shuts two facilities building rockets that will help land the first woman on the Moon in 2024 after an employee tests positive for coronavirus.

The space agency is shutting down the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and the Stennis Space Centre in Mississippi to stop the spread of COVID-19.

This is a massive blow to the NASA Artemis mission that would have seen the first unmanned lunar orbit of the Orion spacecraft happen as early as next year.  

The giant Space Launch System rocket that will get the Orion spacecraft off the Earth is being built at the two closed facilities.

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The Ascent Abort-2 flight test of NASA’s Orion spacecraft’s emergency launch abort system lifts off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S. There will be a delay to the Artemis mission of which Orion is part due to the closures

NASA employee holds the official Artemis mission patch at NASA Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio on March 14, 2020. It is unlikely NASA will still be able to launch for the Moon in 2024 due to coronavirus closing rocket faciliites

 NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said they were closely following the advice of health professions on coronavirus to keep their workforce safe.

“Although a limited amount of employees have tested positive for COVID-19, it is imperative that we take this pre-emptive step to thwart further spreading of the virus among the workforce and our communities,’ he said.  

The Space Launch System rocket, that will eventually launch Orion towards the Moon is being built at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. 

The Stennis Space Centre in Mississippi is testing the first booster for the massive rocket launch system. 

‘NASA will temporarily suspend production and testing of Space Launch System and Orion hardware,’ said Bridenstine. 

‘The NASA and contractors teams will complete an orderly shutdown that puts all hardware in a safe condition until work can resume. 

‘Once this is complete, personnel allowed onsite will be limited to those needed to protect life and critical infrastructure.’

NASA haven’t been able to say exactly what impact it will have on the timeline for the Artemis lunar missions or other missions as they don’t know how long the shut down will last. 

‘We realise there will be impacts to NASA missions, but as our teams work to analyse the full picture and reduce risks we understand that our top priority is the health and safety of the NASA workforce,’ said Bridenstine. 

Orion Spacecraft is seen at NASA Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio. The spacecraft will eventually ferry astronauts from Earth to the Moon but the exact date remains up in the air after coronavirus closed rocket construction facilities 

The USA now has 13,572 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 183 deaths from the deadly respiratory virus.

The delays are going to impact the construction of the Space Launch System and the Orion capsule that would carry astronauts to the Moon. 

NASA expects the unmanned test flight of Orion to be delayed until after 2021. 

The Kennedy Space Center in Florida is fully operational but could be closed if the virus continues to spread. Kennedy is where the Perseverance rover – scheduled to launch for Mars in July or August – is being built. 

The European Space Agency has already delayed its planned launch of the Rosalind Franklin Mars Rover until 2024 due to delays in essential tests. 

WHAT IS NASA’S ARTEMIS MISSION TO THE MOON?

Artemis was the twin sister of Apollo and goddess of the Moon in Greek mythology. 

NASA has chosen her to personify its path back to the Moon, which will see astronauts return to the lunar surface by 2024 –  including the first woman and the next man.

Artemis 1, formerly Exploration Mission-1, is the first in a series of increasingly complex missions that will enable human exploration to the Moon and Mars. 

Artemis 1 will be the first integrated flight test of NASA’s deep space exploration system: the Orion spacecraft, Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the ground systems at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.  

Artemis 1 will be an uncrewed flight that will provide a foundation for human deep space exploration, and demonstrate our commitment and capability to extend human existence to the Moon and beyond. 

During this flight, the spacecraft will launch on the most powerful rocket in the world and fly farther than any spacecraft built for humans has ever flown.

It will travel 280,000 miles (450,600 km) from Earth, thousands of miles beyond the Moon over the course of about a three-week mission. 

Artemis 1, formerly Exploration Mission-1, is the first in a series of increasingly complex missions that will enable human exploration to the Moon and Mars. This graphic explains the various stages of the mission

Orion will stay in space longer than any ship for astronauts has done without docking to a space station and return home faster and hotter than ever before. 

With this first exploration mission, NASA is leading the next steps of human exploration into deep space where astronauts will build and begin testing the systems near the Moon needed for lunar surface missions and exploration to other destinations farther from Earth, including Mars. 

The will take crew on a different trajectory and test Orion’s critical systems with humans aboard.

The SLS rocket will from an initial configuration capable of sending more than 26 metric tons to the Moon, to a final configuration that can send at least 45 metric tons. 

Together, Orion, SLS and the ground systems at Kennedy will be able to meet the most challenging crew and cargo mission needs in deep space.

Eventually NASA seeks to establish a sustainable human presence on the Moon by 2028 as a result of the Artemis mission.

The space agency hopes this colony will uncover new scientific discoveries, demonstrate new technological advancements and lay the foundation for private companies to build a lunar economy. 

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