Two NASA astronauts entered quarantine today (May 13) to prepare for a historic launch to space on a SpaceX spacecraft.
Astronauts Robert “Bob” Behnken and Douglas “Doug” Hurley entered a pre-flight quarantine today as they get ready to launch to the International Space Station aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon vehicle as part of SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission. This mission, scheduled to launch later this month on May 27 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, will be the first crewed mission for the vehicle and will be the first crewed mission to orbit since NASA’s Space Shuttle program ended in 2011.
Two weeks before liftoff, Behnken and Hurley entered this quarantine, known officially as “flight crew health stabilization,” to ensure that they will be healthy and will not carry any contagious illnesses to the space station. Although people all around the world are currently living in various forms of quarantine to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, the astronauts’ new constraints are standard.
Quarantine has been a routine part of crewed launches since the early days of the Apollo program to ensure crew safety.
For crewed Soyuz launches taking off from Kazakhstan, astronauts enter pre-flight quarantine near the launch site. But with this launch, the astronauts have options when it comes to where they will complete this quarantine, according to a NASA statement.
Astronauts who are able to maintain quarantine conditions at home can stay at home until they leave for KSC, where they must report on May 20. However, if they can’t maintain quarantine conditions at home, they can stay at NASA’s Astronaut Quarantine Facility at Johnson Space Center before they go to KSC.
While it might seem appealing for astronauts to stay home, their home can’t be considered suitable for quarantine if they have family members coming and going; for example, if they live with people who have to go to work or school on site, they would not be able to quarantine at home.
Although the pre-flight quarantine is standard procedure for crewed spaceflight, additional measures are being taken to ensure the safety of the launch during a global pandemic, according to the NASA statement. Anyone who has to interact with Hurley and Behnken during the quarantine period will have their temperature taken and be screened for any symptoms of COVID-19, according to the statement. Additionally, both astronauts, as well as those who will be in direct contact with them, will be tested twice for the virus prior to launch.