CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Preparations for the first manned mission in nearly a decade have been meticulous and intense. But with an unprecedented pandemic happening at the same time around the globe, the coronavirus has forced SpaceX and NASA to increase their health and safety protocols more than ever before.
"We knew it was going to be tough getting ready for launch, but then in this new environment we had to take even more precautions," Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, said during a Demo-2 news conference. "Because it's really about not only Bob and Doug's safety, but it's also about the safety of the crew aboard the International Space Station."
Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will be aboard SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule heading to the International Space Station (ISS) on May 30. Liftoff on Wednesday, the original launch date, was scrubbed. The launch is now rescheduled for Saturday at 3:22 p.m.
NASA's administrator and the head of Kennedy Space Center say they had to fight the urge to shake the astronaut's hands when they arrived. The astronauts said their training at the Johnson Space Center in Texas had to be changed slightly because of coronavirus safety measures.
"It’s been a huge wrinkle, to say the least, to adjust everyone’s lives and how we do business and how we train and how we operate," Behnken said, "but I think for us, in particular, it was challenging because we were at that phase the last year, year-and-a-half, where we were traveling to SpaceX literally every week."
As a standard protocol, NASA already quarantines astronauts bound for the ISS shortly before liftoff to reduce the chance that the newcomers will infect their fellow crewmembers. But in response to the coronavirus threat, NASA has also minimized contact with Behnken and Hurley for weeks, Space.com reports. Those who do come in contact with the astronauts wear gloves and masks.
A close look at the Crew Dragon capsule, ready for flight atop its Falcon 9 rocket. (SpaceX photo)
SpaceX Dragon Crew capsule (Photo by NASA)
"They [the astronauts] only come to certain training events where they really need to be present," Steve Stich, deputy manager of the Commercial Crew Program, said. "A lot of training events are done virtually, and then the number of people at a particular training event is dramatically minimized."
THE CONTROL ROOM
NASA will be taking extra precautions when it comes to the teams working for hours in the control room at the Kennedy Space Center on launch day.
According to Space.com, "NASA has rearranged the layout of control rooms at the launch site to ensure that workers there will be able to maintain 6-feet of distance from each other."
Workers will also have face masks and hand sanitizer will be provided. In addition, Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX's President and Chief Operating Officer, says that more than half of the company's engineering staff is currently working from home, and the ones who still come into the office have protective gear.
WATCHING THE LAUNCH
Rocket launches tend to bring huge crowds to Florida's Space Coast, but with this being such a significant event, officials are anticipating an even higher turnout.
NASA and SpaceX are urging spectators to stay at home for safety reasons. Officials in Brevard County, home to the Kennedy Space Center, are rolling out the welcome mat.
“I’m not going to tell Americans they can’t watch a great piece of history. I’m just not going to do it,” said Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey.
Normally, you could buy tickets and watch from bleachers or the lawn at the visitor complex, but no tickets will be sold. The Kennedy Space Center will be closed. With that being said, there are still places that will be open for spectators to watch the launch. However, capacity in many areas will be limited to help maintain social distancing.
You can find a list of where to park to watch the launch HERE.
Around 85 reserve deputies will be on hand to monitor crowds and ask people to comply with social distancing if they are in groups. A local chain of beach shops is distributing 20,000 masks to spectators in coordination with the sheriff’s office, Ivey said.
FOX 35 News will bring you LIVE coverage.