NASA‘s plan to send American astronauts to the Moon could be postponed after news that the space agency is closing two of its facilities in order to hinder the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, have emerged.
The space agency’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana, and Stennis Space Center in Hancock County, Mississippi, will reportedly be closed starting with today, Friday, March 20th.
“The change at Stennis was made due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the community around the center, the number of self-isolation cases within our workforce there, and one confirmed case among our Stennis team,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine stated. “While there are no confirmed cases at Michoud, the facility is moving to Stage 4 due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the local area, in accordance with local and federal guidelines.”
Bridenstine continued saying that mandatory telework is currently ongoing for NASA personnel at both centers until further notice. Moreover, all travel is restricted, with these steps being taken to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and protect the communities.
The Mission to the Moon Could Be Delayed Again
As a result of the closures, the NASA administrator also said that NASA would halt production and testing of Space Launch System and Orion hardware for an indefinite period.
“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,” he said.
The space agency has the aim to send the first woman and man to the Moon’s south pole by the year of 2024 in a mission in which cryogenics will play a crucial role. The development of the Space Launch System has been postponed for years now, and the costs have increased by billions of dollars.
The first launch, an uncrewed test flight, was already scheduled for, but not earlier than 2021. Now, even that timeframe may be too optimistic if the work at both Michoud and Stennis facilities is halted for a temporary period.