Pandemic Be Damned

Mission Control Is Socially Distancing During Today’s SpaceX Launch

"And here we are today, in an empty room, talking to cameras."

5. 27. 20 by Victor Tangermann
Image by SpaceX

This morning’s NASA briefing, leading up to SpaceX’s historic Crew Dragon launch known as Demo-2, looked a little different. There were no crowds and no cheers; just a bare media room with NASA leaders spread six feet apart.

If the launch is successful, the tireless workers who made it happen won’t even be able to embrace each other in Mission Control — a melancholy reflection of the global pandemic that isn’t lost on NASA leadership.

“I remember fondly Demo-1, I remember fondly the Launch Abort Test, and this room was absolutely packed,” said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine during his opening comments.

Demo-1 was SpaceX’s successful, albeit uncrewed, launch of its Crew Dragon spacecraft last spring. The Launch Abort Test last September ended in a spectacular, but intentional, fireball in the sky.


“And here we are today, in an empty room, talking to cameras,” he added. “And all of us are six feet apart.”

The ongoing pandemic means that this year, massive crowds won’t be gathering near the NASA Kennedy Space Center to watch history in the making.

In fact, NASA asked the public not to travel to the Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.


“We think it’s in the best interest of the agency and in the best interest of the nation if people join us by watching from home,” Bridenstine urged people during a press conference late last month.

The same caution will be present in the control room, where workers be working to ensure the safety of NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley during their journey to the International Space Station.

Both pilots have been in quarantine since May 13.

“We need to make sure we are separating people as much as possible,” Steve Stich, deputy manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, said during a press call earlier this month, as reported by The Verge. “We’re looking at all the things where we can practice the guidelines for social distancing, and at the same time, launch this very important mission to the International Space Station.”


The people inside Mission Control are now spread out, according to The Verge, with many operators in different rooms. Work stations are frequently disinfected. See-through plastic barriers have been set up to further separate them.

It’s a sobering reminder of the devastating effects of the pandemic. But if all goes well, SpaceX will have achieved something great — with or without social distancing in effect.

READ MORE: How SpaceX and NASA are launching astronauts into space during a pandemic [The Verge]

More on the launch: Here’s How to Watch SpaceX Launch NASA Astronauts Into Orbit


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