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NASA chief says agency is monitoring coronavirus situation for impacts to US space program

NASA is monitoring coronavirus impacts that could affect the U.S. space program.
NASA is monitoring coronavirus impacts that could affect the U.S. space program.
(Image: © NASA)

NASA is keeping watch for more potential impacts the new coronavirus may have on the U.S. space program after one of the agency's research centers had to send employees home this week after a case, according to the agency's chief Jim Bridenstine.

"As the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation evolves, we'll continue to closely monitor and coordinate with federal, state, and community officials to take any further appropriate steps to help safeguard the NASA family," Bridenstine said in a statement Monday (March 9), one day after an employee at the agency's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley tested positive for the coronavirus.

On Monday, NASA ordered all but the most essential employees at the Ames Research Center (which is located at Moffett Field) to work from home, with the center itself placed on restricted access. The center will remain in that work-from-home condition through at least Friday (March 13), Ames officials said in an update today (March 11). All work-related travel is also cancelled for the week, they said. 

Here's a look at Bridenstine's full statement, some of which we've reported on before. 

Related: Coronavirus in the U.S.; Map, case counts and news

"On Sunday, March 8, we received confirmation an employee at NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley tested positive for the coronavirus (COVID-19). We believe the exposure at the center has been limited, but — out of an abundance of caution, and in consultation with Ames' Center Director Eugene Tu, NASA Chief Health and Medical Officer Dr. J.D. Polk, and in accordance to agency response plan — Ames Research Center is temporarily on mandatory telework status with restricted access to the center until further notice.

"Limiting personnel at the center will allow Ames medical personnel and public health officials to determine potential contacts and assess areas that may require additional cleaning and mitigate potential exposure to center personnel. Working with county officials, Ames leadership and medical personnel are working to trace the contacts of the employee and notifying individuals who may have had significant contact with that person.

"Access to Ames is restricted to essential personnel only as required to safeguard life, property, and critical mission functions approved at the level of the associate center director. More guidance will follow for those who do not have equipment to work from home or who work in labs or other facilities requiring similar technical equipment that are fixed assets. 

"In addition, due to the current uncertainty about the coronavirus situation in the United States and its potential impact on travel during the next few weeks, three NASA Earth Science airborne science campaigns slated to deploy across the country this spring have rescheduled their field activity until later in the year. The campaigns are DeltaX, Dynamics and Chemistry of the Summer Stratosphere (DCOTTS), and Sub-Mesoscale Ocean Dynamics Experiment (S-MODE), which would include flights from Ames. The scientific returns of these projects are not expected to be impacted by this change of plans.

"Last Friday’s agencywide voluntary telework exercise was a good test of NASA's large-scale preparedness with no reported issues to the overall IT system. I've asked all NASA employees to continue to follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the agency’s Chief Health and Medical Officer, and if they have questions, don’t hesitate to talk with their supervisor.

"You've heard the agency's leadership say the protection and care of our NASA team is the top priority and critical to the success of the agency’s mission, and it's true. As the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation evolves, we'll continue to closely monitor and coordinate with federal, state, and community officials to take any further appropriate steps to help safeguard the NASA family."

Email Tariq Malik at tmalik@space.com or follow him @tariqjmalik. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Instagram.

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