NASA is reevaluating its standard pre-launch precautionary measures to ensure that the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus doesn't have a chance to spread among its employees — and to stop the deadly virus from reaching orbit, according to Space.com.
NASA astronauts already go through "health stabilization," a two week quarantine that ensures they are not incubating any illnesses before blasting off into space.
Once in space, any astronaut's ability to fight off diseases is compromised as microgravity has been shown to affect the immune system — which could make a COVID-19 outbreak on board the space station a potentially life-threatening situation.
Meanwhile, SpaceNews reports that Russia is considering extending this pre-flight quarantine. Nonetheless, an April 9 launch to the ISS with US astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner is still approved for liftoff.
"We expect them to take additional measures to make sure that quarantine is a little tighter," NASA's ISS program manager Kirk Shireman told SpaceNews. "We’re ready to deal with that if it happens."
Russian space agency Roscosmos has already felt the affects of the coronavirus outbreak. Due to measures decided by the French government to protect the health of employees and locals, the agency said it had to suspend launch campaigns under way at the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana.
For now, NASA is following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) protocols to combat the coronavirus outbreak.
"This includes cleaning of surfaces, social distancing, emphasizing hand hygiene, encouraging NASA team members who are sick to stay home and limiting contact with crew members," Brandi Dean from NASA's Public Affairs Office told Space.com.
The news comes after an employee at NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley tested positive for COVID-19 last week, causing the center to mandate strict work from home measures.
READ MORE: With coronavirus spreading, NASA may tweak astronaut prelaunch quarantine plans [Space.com]
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