Coronavirus precautions are changing life for NASA astronaut's launch to space station

NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy is ready to take-off for a six month trip to the International Space Station. But, while Cassidy is safe from contamination in pre-flight quarantine in Star City near Moscow, the growing coronavirus pandemic is still having a major affect on his upcoming launch.

Cassidy is set to launch from a pad at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on April 9 alongside Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner in their Soyuz MS-16 spacecraft. They'll spend about six months in space on the flight.

On his first trip to the space station in 2009, Cassidy became the 500th person to ever go to space. He flew to the space station again in 2013 and has to-date completed 6 total spacewalks. So, Cassidy is certainly no space rookie. But in recent satellite interviews with the media, he described how different things are leading up to this launch, with the world responding to the spread of coronavirus. 

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In the interview, Marcia Dunn of the Associated Press asked Cassidy if there was a part of him that was glad to get away during this unsure time. 

"It's not like any other time in our lives, as a generation really," he responded. He likened this moment in time to other major moments in history. It's like "where were you when JFK was shot, where were you when we landed on the moon and where were you when coronavirus was happening, and I'll have my own interesting story to tell in years to come." 

Cassidy further explained to Bill Harwood from CBS News that "if you'd asked me eight months ago, I could have told you, hey, this week, these two weeks, I will be in quarantine. But it would have been for a different reason," he said to Harwood. "I'm still in quarantine, but so is everybody else around us."

"Probably the biggest impact is this past week, had it been in normal quarantine, I probably could have gone out to some restaurants and left the immediate (vicinity) of the Star City area and just been smart about where we went. But not this time. We've been sort of isolated to our cottages and just the essential places we go to get food," Cassidy added to Harwood.

Another major change to "pre-flight life as planned," is that Cassidy can't have his family come to watch him launch to space, "I will have no launch guests at the Baikonur Cosmodrome," he told Harwood. Cassidy was only able to have his wife Julie accompany him to Star City as he prepares to fly. He told Dunn that "it was a real lucky opportunity" that he's able to have Julie there with him.

"It would be a really crushing blow if we were not together during this month and then she was not able to get to Baikonur," he told Dunn. "Unbeknownst to us, our goodbye would have been back in Houston on February 28th or 29th, and we wouldn't have known that. I'm very fortunate that we've been together for this month."

Time will tell if and how things might change from now until the launch date but the astronauts are staying as safe as possible to ensure a healthy trip to space. "Of course, anything can happen between now and April 9, but we're being really super vigilant so that I can remain healthy to get to the station," Cassidy told Harwood.

Follow Chelsea Gohd on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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Chelsea Gohd
Senior Writer

Chelsea “Foxanne” Gohd joined in 2018 and is now a Senior Writer, writing about everything from climate change to planetary science and human spaceflight in both articles and on-camera in videos. With a degree in Public Health and biological sciences, Chelsea has written and worked for institutions including the American Museum of Natural History, Scientific American, Discover Magazine Blog, Astronomy Magazine and Live Science. When not writing, editing or filming something space-y, Chelsea "Foxanne" Gohd is writing music and performing as Foxanne, even launching a song to space in 2021 with Inspiration4. You can follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd and @foxannemusic.