As the number of reported infections is growing in the U.S., NASA announced on Thursday (March 19) that two of its facilities, Michoud Assembly and Stennis Space Center, are going to close at the end of this week, and the people that work there will have to perform their tasks remotely.
The decision was made because of the increase in the number of infections in the surrounding communities and it affects the production and testing of the new Space Launch System rocket and the Orion spacecraft.
It's not clear at this point whether the epidemic would eventually stop humans from reaching space, but NASA's administrator Jim Bridenstine said some impact on future missions is likely.
“NASA leadership is determined to make the health and safety of its workforce its top priority as we navigate the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation. To that end, the agency’s Michoud Assembly Facility and Stennis Space Center are moving to Stage 4 of the NASA Response Framework, effective Friday, March 20,” the official said.
“We realize there will be impacts to NASA missions, but as our teams work to analyze the full picture and reduce risks we understand that our top priority is the health and safety of the NASA workforce.”
In the immediate future, NASA has two major operations in the pipeline: the launch of the Demo-2 test flight with a crewed SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, and the launch of the Perseverance rover to Mars. For now, both missions are still go.