COVID-19 concerns see all NASA centers elevated to Response Framework Stage 3
Throughout the world, a novel coronavirus disease (known formally as COVID-19) has begun to take hold and is quickly bringing changes to the world as we know it. Not immune to this quickly evolving reality, is NASA.
In a statement issued by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine Tuesday evening, the Administrator directed all NASA centers to elevate to stage 3 of the NASA Response Framework, which requires that all NASA employees and contractors move to a mandatory telework status until further notice, while access to center facilities shall be restricted to ‘mission-essential’ personnel only. The increased stage level also introduces restrictions on travel, meetings and on-center events.
In the release, Bridenstine stated that “Although a limited amount of employees have tested positive for COVID-19, it is imperative that we take this pre-emptive step to thwart further spreading of the virus among the workforce and our communities.”
Speaking to the alignment of the agency’s efforts with that of the nation, Bridenstine continued, “NASA’s early and thoughtful actions in coordination with our country’s unified response to this health emergency is an incredible display of national solidarity.”
The precautionary move follows the positive COVID-19 diagnosis of NASA employees at both Ames research Center in California, and the Marshall Spaceflight Center in Alabama. COVID-19, declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11, 2020, is forcing a series of unprecedented actions to be taken by governments, employers and citizens in an effort to stem the rapid rate of transmission and lower the overall impact of the viral disease. At time of writing, no further confirmed cases amongst NASA employees or contractors had been disclosed.
Administrator Bridenstine also took time in his message to thank employees for their diligence and flexibility, asking that they make certain that they are caring for their families and their own health first.
Joining NASA in the adoption of strong precautionary measures in the face of this advancing threat are the European Space Agency, which recently established a mandatory telework policy across all establishments, and Arianespace, who in a statement on March 16 suspended all launch campaigns currently underway at their Guiana Space Center (CSG) in French Guiana.
It should be noted that NASA has an additional fourth stage defined in their Framework, which would be employed if the perceived threat level were to advance even further. While it is not known at this time what specific metrics would trigger a move to implement stage 4 precautions agency-wide, individual centers and sites can expect to have their stages adjusted based on local conditions, threats and forecasts. If stage 4 were to be invoked, employees would continue with their mandatory telework requirements, but onsite access would be further restricted to only those required to “protect life and critical infrastructure”. All facilities would be closed, all travel would be suspended, and only virtual meetings would be permitted.
It is our understanding that stage 4 restrictions at Kennedy Space Center would include the temporary suspension of launch operations; SpaceFlight Insider has reached out to NASA and the 45th Space Wing for comment and will continue to monitor the effects of Coronavirus amongst the spaceflight industry. Updates will be made here, with additional reports being filed as needed.
UPDATE, March 20 – Two NASA centers, Stennis Space Center and Michoud Assembly Facility, have been elevated to Stage 4. Details are in our report, HERE.
Matt Haskell is a published aviation and spaceflight photographer and writer based in Merritt Island Florida. Born and raised outside Edwards Air Force Base and NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center, he moved to Florida’s Space Coast and began photographing and reporting spaceflight professionally full time in 2018.