NASA chief rallies employees amid coronavirus outbreak as agency faces big summer in space

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine is rallying the troops from his pandemic bunker (AKA his house).

In a video message posted online Thursday (April 2), Bridenstine told NASA employees that he knows how tough the coronavirus outbreak, with its attendant school closures and work-from-home mandates, has made life for most of them. Indeed, he feels their pain.

"My 12-year-old daughter is filming this on my iPhone," the NASA chief said from his living room in the YouTube video. "I've got a 14-year-old son in the house, an eight-year-old son in the house. My mother-in-law lives with us, my wife of course is in the house, and we have two dogs — a 14-year-old dog and a 16-year-old dog."

Related: Coronavirus pandemic: Full space industry coverage 

Bridenstine thanked NASA employees for their hard work during this difficult time and stressed that it's all going to pay off — very soon, in fact. He cited two high-profile missions whose launches are just around the corner: Demo-2 and the Mars 2020 rover Perseverance.

Demo-2 is a test flight that will send NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to and from the International Space Station (ISS) aboard SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule. The mission, which is scheduled to lift off in mid- to late May, will be SpaceX's first human spaceflight and the first crewed orbital mission to launch from American soil since NASA's space shuttle fleet was retired in 2011. 

If Demo-2 is successful, SpaceX can start operational crewed missions to and from the ISS under a $2.6 billion contract with NASA that was signed in 2014.

Perseverance, meanwhile, will lift off during a 2.5-week-long window that opens on July 17. The car-size rover, which recently received its official moniker via a student naming competition, will land inside Mars' Jezero Crater in February 2021 to hunt for signs of life, collect and cache samples for future return to Earth and test out several new exploration technologies, including a small helicopter.

Perseverance's name was a perfect choice, Bridenstine said, "because that's what we do at NASA — we persevere."

The nation as well will persevere through the coronavirus outbreak, he added.

"And when we do, there is a very bright future. And that bright future is going to be led by this little agency we call NASA," Bridenstine said. "Know this: I am grateful, and our nation — when they see these stunning achievements this summer, our nation is going to be grateful, too. So, keep it up, keep your chin up and let's keep working hard. Thanks for all you do."

Many NASA facilities are at Stage 4 of the agency's "response framework," meaning they're shut down except for work needed to protect life and critical infrastructure. However, Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, the jumping-off point for both Demo-2 and Perseverance, is at Stage 3 and therefore remains open to mission-essential personnel. (Demo-2 will launch from KSC. Perseverance is being prepped for liftoff at KSC but will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, which is next door to the NASA center.)

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.