Although orbiting astronauts are safely remoted on the International Space Station, the coronavirus has nonetheless impacted spaceflyers, based on a dialog between NASA astronauts and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
NASA astronauts Kate Rubins and Shannon Walker, each dwelling on the space station, spoke with Dr. Inger Damon, director of the division of high-consequence pathogens and pathology at the CDC, on Feb. 10.
Like many people isolating at residence, Walker and the different astronauts who joined Rubins on the space station in November 2020 did no matter they may to keep away from catching COVID-19. “We did not want to bring anything up to the space station,” she advised Damon.
Walker and the three astronauts in her crew educated remotely when doable, however could not keep away from being in shut quarters with one another. When coaching for a mission, the crew must be confined inside the tight quarters of the spacecraft — in this case, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft. To keep as protected as doable, the astronauts wore masks after they needed to be shut to one another, and saved their distance when doable. To decrease the odds of bringing COVID-19 to space, Walker her colleagues quarantined with their households for 3 weeks earlier than launch.
Rubins had already been aboard the station for a couple of month earlier than the Crew Dragon group’s arrival however adopted the same process previous to her personal launch; as a result of even a gentle chilly is a giant drawback in space, quarantines are a long-standing preflight ritual for astronauts.
But the coronavirus has impacted the astronauts’ work, Rubins mentioned, on condition that analysis groups on the floor have needed to transfer to largely distant work, similar to many people on Earth. There has additionally been some impression on operations between the floor and space, she mentioned, however the astronauts are impressed with how easily every little thing is working regardless of a pandemic on the floor.
“It’s been incredible to watch NASA teams still be on a launch schedule,” Rubins mentioned. Despite altering work circumstances on Earth, NASA has been in a position to get cargo vehicles despatched to the space station to resupply the astronauts and to convey them experiments, she mentioned. The solely hiccup both astronaut talked about was a delay in their Thanksgiving meal.
Walker mentioned that despatched her on a artistic cooking mission, ensuing in deconstructed crab desserts made out of what the crew had onboard. (Judging from Rubins’ huge smile and thumbs up, they have been scrumptious.)
One change the pandemic has initiated for these aboard the space station, and those that’ve been there earlier than is a brand new continuously requested query: How do you handle social isolation? For 20 years, astronauts have been spending time on the space station, remoted from their household and pals for months, typically a 12 months, at a time. Now, many people on Earth have a way of what that looks like and we want their advice.
“The important thing is to try to stay connected with friends and family,” Walker mentioned. She, Rubins, and different astronauts on the space station make telephone calls residence at any time when they’ll, have video calls and consider crewmembers as their “space family.” Being in a position to spend time collectively is crucial, Walker mentioned.
Overall, COVID-19 appears to have impacted space a lot because it has Earth, with shifting work routines and further precaution. There are additionally some parallels between the work the CDC is doing on Earth and the work Rubins is doing on the space station. Rubins holds levels in biochemistry, microbiology and immunology.
She advised the CDC a couple of mission to create a complete microbial map of the space station, taking 1,000 swabs round the space. “Everyone floats by and says, ‘Kate, are you still swabbing?'” she joked. The intention is to see what microbes exist on the space station and how they could change their conduct in space in comparison with on Earth.
“I think it’s incredibly interesting to see what it’s like in a completely artificial environment,” she mentioned. “We have no dirt, nothing you’d see in the natural world.” It will likely be illuminating to see how microbes adapt to the fully synthetic atmosphere of the space station, she mentioned.
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