The declaration, made by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, specifically indicates the shuttering of both the agency’s Michoud Assembly Facility and Stennis Space Center in Louisiana and Mississippi, respectively. The notice further states that the measure takes effect Friday.
“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,” reads the announcement. “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.”
“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,” it adds.
Additionally, Bridenstine noted that mandatory telework would be in effect for NASA personnel assigned to the facilities for the foreseeable future. “All previously approved exceptions for onsite work are rescinded and new approvals will be required in order to gain access to the center,” he specified.
According to Space.com, the Space Launch System’s core was being built at the Michoud facility and tested at Stennis. More recently, the powerful rocket underwent a “green run” test campaign ahead of its debut as part of NASA’s Artemis I mission.
The Artemis I project is expected to be the US space agency’s first integrated flight test of the Orion spacecraft and the Space Launch System with the Kennedy Space Center’s upgraded Exploration Ground Systems. The Artemis I uncrewed flight, which is targeted for a mid-2021 deployment, will see the spacecraft launch into space and then orbit the moon.
Following the initial launch, the Artemis mission is slated to carry out two crewed flights, of which the second is expected to mark the first crewed lunar landing near the moon’s south pole. The last lunar landing carried out by NASA occurred during the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.
NASA’s latest development comes after the space agency revealed that its joint project with SpaceX is still on target and expected to conduct its first crewed mission to the International Space Station “no earlier than mid-to-late May.”