WASHINGTON — NASA has suspended work on the James Webb Space Telescope as it prioritizes what agency missions require people to be on site during the coronavirus pandemic.
In a statement March 20, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said NASA had completed an assessment of work across the agency, deciding which projects are essential enough to require people to go to NASA centers or other facilities to work on them.
“We are going to take care of our people. That’s our first priority,” said Bridenstine. “Technology allows us to do a lot of what we need to do remotely, but, where hands-on work is required, it is difficult or impossible to comply with [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines while processing spaceflight hardware, and where we can’t safely do that we’re going to have to suspend work and focus on the mission-critical activities.”
JWST, NASA’s next astrophysics flagship mission, is one of the projects that NASA is putting on hold. Work on integration and testing of the space telescope, which had been ongoing at a Northrop Grumman facility in Southern California, will be suspended.
“Decisions could be adjusted as the situation continues to unfold over the weekend and into next week,” NASA said in its statement. “The decision was made to ensure the safety of the workforce. The observatory remains safe in its cleanroom environment.”
During an online town hall meeting for NASA’s science program earlier March 20, Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science, suggested the mission would be delayed. “It will be impacted,” he said. NASA personnel involved in that work had been reduced, he said, in part to allow those on travel to return home to their families.
“That will lead to changes in our schedule,” he said. “It’s anticipated that, by early April, the Webb project will be experiencing day-for-day scheduling impact to its critical path.”
Another factor is the decision by California Gov. Gavin Newsom to issue a statewide “shelter in place” order, closing businesses other than those deemed essential. NASA, in its statement, said it was assessing the effects of that order on work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
NASA is moving ahead with the Mars 2020 mission and its Perseverance rover, which the agency has given a high priority because of its narrow launch window that opens in mid-July. In the statement, NASA said that “launch and other mission preparations will continue” for the mission, reiterating similar statements in recent days by NASA’s science leadership.
“The teams are doing, frankly, heroes’ work to keep us on track for a July launch,” Zurbuchen said. He added there had been discussions with NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center and Wallops Flight Facility, both of which host NASA aircraft, about using those planes to fly “necessary personnel” to the launch site if other modes of transportation, like commercial aviation, are not available. “It’s something we refer to amongst ourselves as ‘Perseverance Airlines,’” he said.
While work on the Space Launch System and Orion has been suspended at the Michoud Assembly Facility and Stennis Space Center, NASA said “limited production of hardware and software” for SLS continues elsewhere. The Orion spacecraft built for the Artemis 1 mission, which recently finished environmental testing at NASA’s Plum Brook Station in Ohio, is still scheduled to be flown back to the Kennedy Space Center soon.
Other human spaceflight programs are continuing. Mission Control for the International Space Station at the Johnson Space Center is operating with unspecified “additional measures” in place to reduce controllers’ risk of exposure to COVID-19. NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, who will launch to the station April 9 on a Soyuz spacecraft, will go into quarantine two weeks before launch, standard procedures for any crewed mission.
Work on the commercial crew program continues, with NASA calling it “a critical element” for safe ISS operations. Plans for future cargo missions are also unaffected.
Most other programs, however, are shifting to virtual activities. Zurbuchen said at the town hall meeting that missions in the early stage of development can essentially do all of their activities, like design work, remotely, and thus can proceed.
Missions that do need hands-on work and are prevented from doing so will suffer delays, he acknowledged. “Just like in a government shutdown, which we have seen before, that will have consequences,” he said. “We’ll deal with that later.”
Zurbuchen said he would not hesitate to stop work on Mars 2020 if it was unsafe to do so, even if it meant missing its launch window and having to wait until 2022 to try again. “Every time we have a meeting with the JPL center director and contractors, I reassure to them if there’s a moment in time when they feel it’s no longer safe,” he said, “we will stop.”
NASA taps SpaceX for future cargo deliveries to the lunar Gateway – SlashGear
In an announcement on Friday, NASA revealed the first private American space company to receive a Gateway Logistics Services contract under the Artemis program: SpaceX. Under this new deal, SpaceX will eventually deliver various experiments, supplies, and other cargo to the planned lunar Gateway. The space agency has described this as a ‘significant step forward’ in its Artemis program, which is aiming for a manned return to the Moon by 2024.
Under a Gateway Logistics Services contract, NASA will be able to order missions for as long as 12 years, it explained on Friday. The space agency is working on making the lunar Gateway outpost a reality — it will be a small spaceship that remains in lunar orbit, serving as a living space for astronauts, a space lab for scientific work, and more.
As with the International Space Station today, the future Gateway will require regular shipments of cargo and other goods. SpaceX has worked extensively with NASA over the years to launch cargo deliveries, among other things, and it makes sense that the space agency would continue its work with the private space company.
In a statement, NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Deep Space Logistics manager Mark Wiese said:
This is an exciting new chapter for human exploration. We are bringing the innovative thinking of commercial industry into our supply chain and helping ensure we’re able to support crews preparing for lunar surface expeditions by delivering the supplies they need ahead of time.
At this point in time, NASA says that it is planning supply missions to the Gateway that will involve a cargo spacecraft spending between six and 12 months at the outpost each time. SpaceX plays an important role in NASA’s Artemis program and future Mars ambitions, but it isn’t the only private American space company working with the space agency. Among others, Boeing also has considerable involvement with the Artemis program.
Astronaut tips to survive lockdown: Talk, teamwork, treats – The Jakarta Post – Jakarta Post
Stick to a daily routine, stay connected with family and treat yourself occasionally – those are some of the tips German astronauts gave for surviving lockdown during the coronavirus crisis, which they said was much like their time in space.
Thomas Reiter, 61, who was the first German astronaut to perform a spacewalk, recalled during a Skype conversation with other astronauts on Thursday how he had a tight daily routine in space.
“I think it’s important to follow a conscious routine in such a situation … keeping that routine all week,” said Reiter, now retired.
But weekend treats were important to look forward to.
“During the week we picked out the things from the food container that each person liked the most for a Friday or Saturday evening and then had a bit better food,” he said.
Reiter recalled using Skype to connect with his family from the International Space Station. Sitting in front of a bookshelf, he recommended using lockdown to catch up on reading.
“You have to be able to retreat,” he said, but added that in confinement with others, people must put the group first. “You work together as a crew, you have to think of the others.”
Matthias Maurer, 50, the newest addition to the European Space Agency’s astronaut corps, said it was important to address any niggles before they blow up into arguments.
“Everyone of us has a quirk which we are comfortable with but which can annoy others,” he said, recalling how his taste for bananas annoyed a colleague who couldn’t stand their smell.
“If he hadn’t said that so politely and clearly, I would have continually annoyed him,” said Maurer.
Alexander Gerst, 43, who commanded the International Space Station, addressed the anxiety people may feel during the coronavirus epidemic.
Before a mission, astronauts think about the worst that could happen and then train how to respond.
“Then you have the feeling not that you are losing control, but that you have some control over the situation,” he said.
“Now the situation is similar. We have a very effective means of limiting this illness – that is that we stay at home.”
Reiter urged people to act likes astronauts going into quarantine before a mission – a protocol to prevent illness in space.
“Some people take the attitude ‘I’m young, I’m not at danger, I have no symptoms, so I don’t need to pay attention’,” he said. “It is up everyone to behave appropriately now, just like for us in quarantine.”
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Uranus has started leaking gas, NASA scientists confirm – Happy Mag
As if 2020 couldn’t get any more cursed, NASA scientists looking back through decades-old data from the Voyager 2 spacecraft have discovered a mysterious gas escaping from Uranus.
The data showed some mysterious force sucking the atmosphere straight out of the planet and into space.
Highly detailed and scientific NASA research can confirm that something massive is coming out of Uranus.
Buried data reveals that when the spacecraft flew past the gas giant in 1986, it passed through something called a plasmoid that escaped and stole a big old cloud of the planet’s atmosphere along with it.
NASA have learnt from Voyager 2’s gassy expedition that the plasmoid itself was about 127,000 miles long and twice as wide. The data, first published in August in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, will be able to give NASA a much more detailed understanding of Uranus’ atmospheric composition, however won’t be able to tell them everything.
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