Concerns about the coronavirus outbreak have resulted in some cancellations and restrictions in the space industry, but many events will continue as planned.
More than 94,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been reported worldwide; about 80,000 of those cases were in mainland China, according to data from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The United States has had 128 known cases, including one death, reported in Washington state. The World Health Organization (WHO) has said the virus, known as SARS-CoV-2, poses a high risk of spread and impact. However, WHO has not classified the outbreak as a pandemic and has said that most of the reported cases have come from known contacts or clusters of cases.
In an interview with SpaceNews, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the agency is considering advice from government officials in making decisions about NASA field centers. He added that solutions could vary from center to center.
On Wednesday, organizers with the Lunar and Planetary Institute announced the cancellation of the annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas. It was slated to begin March 16.
"We're taking it, at this point, day by day," Bridenstine told SpaceNews. "We have 10 centers across the nation, and every single one of them, as this continues to develop, is going to be affected differently."
The European Space Agency (ESA) is "currently assessing" whether it will proceed with upcoming meetings. So far, the agency has implemented some restrictions, according to a blog post from Director General Jan Wörner. For example, people who have been to regions with larger coronavirus outbreaks — such as China, Italy, Japan or South Korea — must have left those regions at least two weeks prior before they are allowed to enter an ESA facility.
"Due to the necessity for us to continue operating satellites, there are some limits to what we can do," Wörner wrote. "Each and every one of us, though, must act responsibly to help counteract the coronavirus."
The coronavirus outbreak has also led to some conference cancellations. For example, the American Physical Society (APS) canceled its annual conference just 36 hours before the event's scheduled start of March 2. The APS was expected to attract 10,000 attendees, many of whom were either already traveling to the conference or already in Denver when the cancellation was announced.
However, organizers of several other conferences are planning to go ahead with their plans, SpaceNews reported. The Satellite 2020 conference is still slated to begin as planned on March 9 in Washington, D.C.; the Space Foundation still plans to start the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on March 30; and the Northeast Astronomy Forum, a huge annual gathering of astronomy enthusiasts in Suffern, New York, is on track for April 4 and 5.
Editor's note: This story was updated to reflect the cancellation of the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Texas due to coronavirus concerns.
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Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace