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How NASA is keeping coronavirus off the International Space Station

A mission is planned for just three weeks from now, but NASA has a plan.

Crew health is always important as on this previous ISS mission

Image source: NASA.gov
  • Before liftoff on every mission since 1971, NASA crew members spend two weeks in a "health stabilization" quarantine.
  • Other employees of the agency have been given a response framework that tells them where and how to proceed with their duties.
  • For upcoming launches, NASA is depending on Russia and SpaceX to step up to the challenge.

There are no respirators in space. As concerned as you may be at the moment about coronavirus following you into your personal quarantine, imagine getting COVID-19 in space, trapped in a vehicle far above the nearest hospital. As the next planned mission to the International Space Station (ISS) on April 9 gets closer, it's reasonable to wonder what can be done to protect astronauts already aboard from the potentially catastrophic arrival of the coronavirus.

As of March 17, NASA has no plans to cancel or postpone this or any other planned missions in the near future. While the situation is continually being reassessed, the agency has a number of measures in place to protect the crews involved.

Astronaut taking a picture from outside the ISS

Taking a picture outside the ISS

Image source: NASA.gov

It's comforting to know that NASA has for some time been careful about allowing germs aloft. Before every mission, dating back to the Apollo 14 launch in 1971, crew members heading for orbit must first spend two weeks in a "health stabilization" quarantine. Prior to its implementation, pre-flight illnesses were a concern and a relatively common occurrence.

Prior to entering the quarantine for the upcoming mission, NASA will be testing crew members for coronavirus infection.

One of the mission's crew is a cosmonaut from Kazakhstan (the location of the launch site). This past weekend, the nation reported its first coronavirus test and then closed its borders to outsiders.

NASA's team will be allowed entry, though the launch personnel roster is being pared down to as few people as possible. Safe travel arrangements are still being assessed. No reporters will be allowed to attend the launch, and the Russian state space corporation, Roscosmos, will take the unusual step of live-streaming the launch, as NASA usually does.

Coming home from the ISS

Soyuz MS-08 landss near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan in 2018

Image source: NASA/Bill Ingalls

In the middle of April, a return for some ISS crew members is on the calendar. Expected to land aboard a Soyuz capsule are presumably virus-free Andrew Morgan and Jessica Meir from the U.S, and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka. The capsule will come down in the Kazhak desert, a type of landing that in normal times requires a large number of recovery personnel to retrieve returning crew. NASA has not yet announced plans to modify this cohort of rescuers.

Earth to Elon

ISS crew inside SpaceDragon capsule

ISS crew inside SpaceDragon capsule on March 9

Image source: NASA.gov

Perhaps the most worrying upcoming mission is the one planned in cooperation with SpaceX and currently scheduled for May. So far, things are proceeding as planned, though SpaceX founder Elon Musk last week sent an alarming email to employees. In it he downplayed the seriousness of coronavirus, arguing that more people die in car crashes. His commentary raises concerns regarding whether or not SpaceX can be relied on to proceed with the requisite level of caution.

The mission is an important one. It's a key step in NASA's Commercial Crew Program, marking the first time a privately-funded vehicle would be transporting people to and from the ISS. SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule has already paid one visit to the space station, successfully docking on March 9 as shown in the photo above.

Resume countdown

NASA Response Framework

Image source: NASA.gov

As far as NASA's Earth-bound employees go, the agency has a four-stage classification system for how and where to work. The coronavirus response framework (above) covers Central Access, Health & Safety, Meetings & Events, and Travel.

So as of now, NASA's plans for the next three missions remain on-track, with modifications made where possible in response to COVID-19 challenges. Of course, things are changing almost daily, and NASA has made it clear that they plan to continually re-assess their mission plans as events warrant.

The “new normal” paradox: What COVID-19 has revealed about higher education

Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?

Photo: Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
  • It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
  • COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
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Climate change melts Mount Everest's ice, exposing dead bodies of past climbers

Melting ice is turning up bodies on Mt. Everest. This isn't as shocking as you'd think.

Image source: Wikimedia commons
Surprising Science
  • Mt. Everest is the final resting place of about 200 climbers who never made it down.
  • Recent glacial melting, caused by climate change, has made many of the bodies previously hidden by ice and snow visible again.
  • While many bodies are quite visible and well known, others are renowned for being lost for decades.
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Creativity: The science behind the madness

Human brains evolved for creativity. We just have to learn how to access it.

Creativity: The science behind the madness | Rainn Wilson, David Eagleman, Scott ...
Videos
  • An all-star cast of Big Thinkers—actors Rainn Wilson and Ethan Hawke; composer Anthony Brandt; neuroscientists David Eagleman, Wendy Suzuki, and Beau Lotto; and psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman—share how they define creativity and explain how our brains uniquely evolved for the phenomenon.
  • According to Eagleman, during evolution there was an increase in space between our brain's input and output that allows information more time to percolate. We also grew a larger prefrontal cortex which "allows us to simulate what ifs, to separate ourselves from our location in space and time and think about possibilities."
  • Scott Barry Kaufman details 3 brain networks involved in creative thinking, and Wendy Suzuki busts the famous left-brain, right-brain myth.

Dinosaur bone? Meteorite? These men's wedding bands are a real break from boredom.

Manly Bands wanted to improve on mens' wedding bands. Mission accomplished.

Sex & Relationships
  • Manly Bands was founded in 2016 to provide better options and customer service in men's wedding bands.
  • Unique materials include antler, dinosaur bones, meteorite, tungsten, and whiskey barrels.
  • The company donates a portion of profits to charity every month.
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Politics & Current Affairs

How #Unity2020 plans to end the two-party system, bring back Andrew Yang

The proposal calls for the American public to draft two candidates to lead the executive branch: one from the center-left, the other from the center-right.

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