Despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, NASA said it currently has no plans to push back the launch of its Perseverance rover to Mars, Fox News has learned.
“We are proactively monitoring the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation, and have plans in place to address issues as they arise,” NASA spokesman Allard Beutel said in an email to Fox News. “Currently, the coronavirus has not impacted the Mars Perseverance rover launch preps, and work is continuing on schedule.”
NASA, which recently renamed the rover to Perseverance, will launch the rover on July 17, 2020. This rover will attempt to detect if there is any fossilized evidence of extraterrestrial beings, in addition to other tasks.
The U.S. space agency’s announcement comes after the European Space Agency and Russian space agency Roscosmos said they would back its upcoming ExoMars mission, which had also been scheduled for July 2020.
The agencies said the decision to postpone the launch of the Rosalind Franklin rover was made due in part to additional testing and concerns that the novel coronavirus could affect the availability of personnel needed to operate and maintain the rover.
“We have made a difficult but well-weighed decision to postpone the launch to 2022,” said Roscosmos Director General Dmitry Rogozin in a statement. “It is driven primarily by the need to maximise the robustness of all ExoMars systems as well as force majeure circumstances related to exacerbation of the epidemiological situation in Europe which left our experts practically no possibility to proceed with travels to partner industries.”
Although there are no “current” plans to push back the Perseverance rover’s mission, which is expected to land on the Martian surface on Feb. 18, 2021, NASA is also dealing with altered plans because of COVID-19.
Earlier this week, NASA updated its work-from-home plans after an employee at NASA’s Ames Research Center tested positive for the virus.
Ames Research Center remains on mandatory telework and restricted access through at least March 13.
The government agency added that “all work-related travel is canceled for the week of March 9, and future travel will be reviewed on an individual basis.”
“NASA is coordinating with the White House, State Department, and other federal agencies and officials, and has formed an internal, multi-office working group that will address issues as they arise,” Beutel added in the email, stating the space agency will “follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the agency’s Chief Health and Medical Officer, and communicate that guidance to its workforce as it becomes available.”
Once Perseverance lands on Mars, it will join the still functioning Curiosity rover and the now-deceased Opportunity rover on the Red Planet. Unlike Curiosity or Opportunity, this rover will carry the “first helicopter that will fly on another planet,” NASA added.
NASA’s long-term goal is to send a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s.
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