NASA has instructed all of its employees nationwide to work from home if possible as part of measures to protect the workforce and slow the spread of the coronavirus, formally known as COVID-19.
The move was announced on Wednesday, March 18, and follows a growing number of businesses across the U.S. and beyond who are requesting employees to work remotely if practicably possible.
NASA had recently started to send workers home at sites in California and Alabama after workers there were tested positive for the virus, but Wednesday’s order includes all NASA centers and facilities across the country.
In a statement, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the agency is continuing to monitor COVID-19-related developments around the U.S.
“We are closely following the advice of health professionals and the White House Coronavirus Task Force to keep our workforce safe,” Bridenstine said. “Implementing best practices early and quickly will increase likelihoods for better outcomes.”
He added: “This evening, NASA leadership has decided to elevate all centers and facilities to Stage 3 of NASA’s Response Framework. Effective immediately, all employees and contractors will move to mandatory telework until further notice. Mission-essential personnel will continue to be granted access onsite.”
Bridenstine said that only a small number of employees have so far tested positive for COVID-19, but added that remote working is now necessary as part of efforts to thwart further spreading of the virus among NASA’s workforce and its communities.
The announcement came the day before another one from NASA revealing that, despite COVID-19, it’s still aiming to go ahead with the maiden crewed mission to the International Space Station in May 2020 using SpaceX’s astronaut-ready capsule, which will mark the first launch of American astronauts aboard an American rocket and spacecraft since the final space shuttle mission in 2011.
But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing for the space industry since the emergence of COVID-19. The European Space Agency and Russia’s Roscosmos space agency, for example, announced last week that it was delaying its ExoMars rover mission until 2022 at it needs extra time to complete all of the necessary tests on its spacecraft and related equipment. Disruption caused by COVID-19 was cited as one of several reasons for the delay.