NASA is requesting that its employees work from home after a case of the coronavirus, officially called COVID-19, was confirmed at the Marshall Space Flight Center.
“We recently received confirmation that an employee at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama has tested positive for COVID-19,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement.
This follows NASA’s announcement last week that an employee at Ames Research Center in California was also diagnosed with the disease. Bridenstine went on: “As with Ames — in consultation with Marshall Center Director Jody Singer, NASA Chief Health and Medical Officer Dr. J.D. Polk, and in accordance to agency response plans – Marshall has been elevated to Stage 3 and is in mandatory telework status, with restricted access to the center until further notice.”
Bridenstine confirmed that there was no information to suggest that there were coronavirus cases in other NASA facilities. However, in “an abundance of caution,” the agency has chosen to encourage employees at all NASA centers to telework and to discourage any travel other than that which is mission essential.
The administrator also had advice for NASA employees and for the general public who are concerned about their health during this outbreak: “As I’ve told the NASA community, if you are performing mission-essential work on center, do not go to work if you feel sick. Everyone should take extra precautions to protect themselves and others. I’ve asked employees to please continue to follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the agency’s chief health and medical officer, and if they have questions, don’t hesitate to talk with their supervisor.”
The coronavirus outbreak has already had an impact on the space industry, with the European Space Agency and Roscosmos announcing they will delay the launch of their ExoMars rover until at least 2022. There could also be an impact on plans for changing the crew of the International Space Station (ISS), which is scheduled to go ahead in April with two new Russian cosmonauts joining the ISS. Russian officials have called for a longer period of preflight quarantine for astronauts to prevent them from carrying any diseases onto the space station, as reported by space.com.
In addition, a number of astronomy and aerospace conferences have been canceled, and NASA is delaying some its scientific projects as well.