COVID-19 precautions lead to Stage 4 site restrictions at NASA’s Stennis, Michoud facilities
NASA’s Stennis Space Center (Mississippi) and Michoud Assembly Facility (Louisiana) are being elevated to stage 4 of NASA’s COVID-19 (Coronavirus) response framework, due to increased case counts being recorded in the local communities. As was reported in an earlier article, stage 4 means that there is effectively a complete on-site closure of the affected center, while telework is mandatory for all employees and contractors who are still able to work and advance the programs remotely.
In a statement released Thursday night, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine outlined the situation as follows: “NASA leadership is determined to make the health and safety of its workforce its top priority as we navigate the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation.”, continuing that “The change at Stennis was made due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the community around the center, the number of self-isolation cases within our workforce there, and one confirmed case among our Stennis team. While there are no confirmed cases at Michoud, the facility is moving to Stage 4 due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the local area, in accordance with local and federal guidelines.”
On the topic of how these changes would affect operations on the ground, Administrator Bridenstine continued “Mandatory telework is in effect for NASA personnel at both facilities until further notice. Additionally, all travel is suspended. These measures are being taken to help slow the transmission of COVID-19 and protect our communities. Access to Stennis and Michoud will be limited to personnel required to maintain the safety and security of the center, as approved by agency leadership and the resident agencies. All previously approved exceptions for onsite work are rescinded and new approvals will be required in order to gain access to the center.”
NASA’s Stennis and Michoud centers are both critical contributors to the Artemis program, set to return America and the international program partners to the Moon. The nearly completed Space Launch System (SLS) core stage for the Artemis I mission is vertical on the B2 test stand at Stennis, in preparation for the green run full duration test firing, which is currently expected to occur later this year. Stennis also serves as NASA’s live fire testing location for the Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-25, the engines used by SLS. At NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility, work is well underway at the production facility for the core stage of the SLS rocket (being built by Boeing), as well as the pressure vessel of the Orion Capsule, which is being built by Lockheed Martin.
In acknowledging the program impacts which will result as a function of this move, Administrator Bridenstine stressed that the top priority must remain the health and safety of the NASA workforce.
“NASA will temporarily suspend production and testing of Space Launch System and Orion hardware. The NASA and contractors teams will complete an orderly shutdown that puts all hardware in a safe condition until work can resume. Once this is complete, personnel allowed onsite will be limited to those needed to protect life and critical infrastructure.”
As members of the greater spaceflight community react to the swiftly evolving COVID-19 pandemic, government agencies continue to alter their operations to mitigate the risk it presents. In the case of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), they are following the Government of Canada guidelines in response to the virus. Responding to an enquiry from SpaceFlight Insider, CSA spokesperson Andrea Matte confirmed that while all CSA employees and contractors are being encouraged to telework wherever and however possible, critical services personnel are permitted to remain on-site.
It was also confirmed that all four active members of Canada’s astronaut corps, Jeremy Hansen, Jenni Sidey-Gibbons, Joshua Kutryk and David Saint-Jacques, who each live in the Houston area with their respective families, are currently in Texas and are teleworking as per direction from NASA leadership, guided by the current Stage 3 response framework level at the Johnson Space Center. When asked to speak to any impact which the COVID-19 work adjustments might have had on operations for the International Space Station (ISS), Matte shared that “On our side, critical operations supporting robotics activities are ongoing.”
SpaceFlight Insider will continue to monitor the developing situation, providing further updates as available to keep you updated on the effects of COVID-19 in the world of cargo, crew and research missions.
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.