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COVID-19 Affects Space Station Crew Transition


[UPDATED: 2020-04-01 2008 UTC] International Space Station (ISS) Expedition 62 crew is readying its Soyuz MS-15 vehicle for an April 17 departure back to Earth. Expedition 62 members are NASA Flight Engineer Jessica Meir; Flight Engineer Andrew Morgan, KI5AAA, and Commander Oleg Skripochka, RA0LDJ. The Expedition 63 crew members who are to replace them are nearing an April 9 launch aboard the Soyuz MS-16 vehicle.

NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, KF5KDR, and Roscosmos cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin, and Ivan Vagner arrived this week at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for final training. The Expedition 63 trio is scheduled to live aboard the station for a little longer than 6 months, with Cassidy as commander. Because of travel limitations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cassidy’s family will watch from home when he blasts off on April 9. Launch day at Baikonur is usually a festive affair.

“But it’ll be completely quiet,” Cassidy said in a Spaceflight Now satellite interview from Star City, Russia. “There won’t be anybody there.” A NASA protocol has long been in place to prevent astronauts from carrying disease microbes into space. All astronauts going to orbit must go through a 2-week “health stabilization” quarantine period. This way, NASA can make sure the crew is not incubating any illnesses before launch. NASA said it “will continue to evaluate and augment this plan, in coordination with its international and commercial partners,” if needed.

Russia’s state space corporation Roscosmos has shut down all media activity surrounding the Soyuz launch, barring journalists from covering the mission in person. Russia will still live-stream the launch; NASA typically carries all of its crewed launches online via its NASA TV channel. The mid-April return of the Expedition 62 crew would typically involve a large number of recovery personnel.

SpaceX will launch its Crew Dragon capsule with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken, KG5BBX, and Doug Hurley aboard the spacecraft, “no earlier than mid-to-late May,” NASA said, marking the first crew launch from the US since 2011. This is the final flight test of the system before SpaceX is certified to carry out operational crew flights to and from the ISS for NASA.

Pending the outcome of the demonstration test, SpaceX hopes to send its first operational crew of astronauts to the ISS aboard its Crew Dragon capsule later this year. On board will be Shannon Walker, KD5DXB; Michael Hopkins, KF5LJG; Victor Glover Jr., KI5BKC, and Soichi Noguchi, KD5TVP, for a six-month duty tour. NASA has not said what might happen if those operations should change in light of the pandemic. — Thanks to NASA, AMSAT News Service



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