NASA astronauts go on quarantine ahead of historic SpaceX launch

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken, left, and Doug Hurley, wearing SpaceX spacesuits, walk out of the Neil A. Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Jan. 17, 2020, during a dress rehearsal ahead of the SpaceX uncrewed In-Flight Abort Test. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft will lift off from Launch Complex 39A on the flight test, which will demonstrate the spacecraft’s escape capabilities in preparation for crewed flights to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. Behnken and Hurley are slated to fly on the company’s first crewed mission, Demo-2.

NASA astronauts Behnken and Hurley had just a few days of downtime, following the end of their extensive training for SpaceX Crew Dragon, before being placed on a mandatory launch-related quarantine this week.

The pair have spent months training together in close proximity, so in a way, they’ve been quarantining together for some time now. But official quarantine started on May 13th.

Quarantine is a routine part of spaceflight for any astronaut that was first established during the Apollo program. It’s a necessary safety to measure to ensure that new crew members do not bring any contagions to the station. In order to make sure that Behnken and Hurley are not bringing the novel coronavirus to the space station, they (along with anyone who has close contact with them) will both be tested twice between now and launch.

SpaceX’s epic first crew launch is only a few weeks away. The California-based rocket builder has been busy preparing for the historic event. That mission is set to blast off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on May 27, at 4:33 p.m. EDT (2030 UTC).

When NASA announced the official launch date, SpaceX still had quite a bit of work to do before the big event. In the intervening weeks, however, SpaceX has completed several key items on its to-do list.

While officials from SpaceX and NASA were addressing members of the media and going over details of the launch and mission to follow, SpaceX engineers were conducting the final parachute test required before launch. That test went off without a hitch, and the company was able to close out another item.

Last week wrapped up the crew’s final week of training before launch.

Officially dubbed “flight crew health stabilization” by NASA, the quarantine is typically carried out near the launch site. For the past nine years, that has been in Kazakhstan, where Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft launches from. But this time around, the crew can choose to stay in the official astronaut quarters at Johnson Space Center in Houston or their own home if they can ensure that everyone in their household follows strict quarantine procedures.

Then, on May 20, Behnken and Hurley will travel to Florida, where they will reside in the astronaut quarters at Kennedy Space Center until they are ready to strap into their Crew Dragon spacecraft.

This exciting step means we are that much closer to launch. As it stands now, NASA and SpaceX are targeting May 27 at 4:33 p.m. EDT for liftoff, and everything is right on track. They will join NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner, who are already on the orbital outpost.

Amy Thompson: I write about space, science, and future tech.
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