Columnist Leonard David

Coronavirus fears have shuttered one physics meeting. Here's how space conferences could respond

This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV).
This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV). (Image credit: CDC)

The spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus is beginning to affect major upcoming space and science gatherings.

The first big meeting to be canceled was an annual meeting of the American Physical Society (APS), which was scheduled to take place in Denver this week (March 2-6).

"Due to rapidly escalating health concerns relating to the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the 2020 APS March Meeting in Denver, CO, has been canceled," the organizers wrote on Twitter late Saturday night (Feb. 29), less than 36 hours before the conference was scheduled to begin. "Please do not travel to Denver to attend the March meeting," the tweet added.

Related: Huge physics conference canceled at the last minute due to coronavirus fears

Meanwhile, a big space-industry meeting scheduled to take place later this month just 70 miles (110 kilometers) down the road from the APS meeting is still moving forward. 

According to a statement from the Space Foundation — the organization behind the 36th Space Symposium, to be held March 30 through April 2 at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colorado — plans for the event "are continuing to move forward." However, the organization "is continually monitoring all of the reporting from the recognized and authoritative sources" concerning the spread of the virus.

"With thousands gathering from the civil, military, commercial and international space communities, the safety, security and success of each and every symposium attendee, exhibitor, presenter and guest is always priority one," the Space Foundation statement noted.

Related: Coronavirus resources: US state and local health departments

"We also know that federal, state and local leaders and public health providers are working together and sharing guidance to safeguard everyone from exposure to the virus. The Space Foundation encourages all of its attendees, exhibitors, presenters and guests to continue to follow the prescribed guidance of these authorities as well as the CDC's healthy habits to prevent cold/flu," the Space Foundation said in the statement, referring to advice from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"As the 36th Space Symposium approaches, the Space Foundation will be continually working with The Broadmoor, as well as all of our vendors, staff and volunteers, to take appropriate measures to make sure your time with us is safe and successful. When and if additional guidance is provided, we will share further updates as warranted," the statement added.

Lunar and Planetary Science Conference 

Similarly, the 51st Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) that's being held in The Woodlands, Texas, March 16–20 has underscored the virus issue.

"As we prepare for the conference, we are confident that this year's LPSC will be a complete success. However, we want to address how the coronavirus (COVID-19) may impact the conference," event organizers said in a statement. "The health and safety of all attendees and exhibitors are paramount. The LPSC management team is working closely with The Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel and Convention Center to take all feasible precautionary measures that might reduce potential health risks at the conference."

According to the LPSC statement, the organization continues to follow the guidance of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the CDC, which provide constant updates on the virus as well as useful information about protective measures, like proper hand-washing procedures. 

"Both organizations advise that washing your hands with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand rub can eliminate the virus if it is on your hands," LPSC officials said in the statement.

While the LPSC management team noted they always provide hand sanitizer for the event's attendees, "we will increase its availability throughout the meeting areas," the statement added. "Both the WHO and CDC also offer information about other healthy and protective practices. We encourage all attendees to visit these websites and remain informed on protective measures."

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Leonard David
Space Insider Columnist

Leonard David is an award-winning space journalist who has been reporting on space activities for more than 50 years. Currently writing as's Space Insider Columnist among his other projects, Leonard has authored numerous books on space exploration, Mars missions and more, with his latest being "Moon Rush: The New Space Race" published in 2019 by National Geographic. He also wrote "Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet" released in 2016 by National Geographic. Leonard  has served as a correspondent for SpaceNews, Scientific American and Aerospace America for the AIAA. He has received many awards, including the first Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History in 2015 at the AAS Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium. You can find out Leonard's latest project at his website and on Twitter.