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NASA suspends work on Moon rocket due to virus

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The Mars 2020 Rover is seen in the spacecraft assembly area clean room, December 27, 2019 during a media tour at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. – The Mars 2020 rover, which will take off in a few months to the Red Planet, will not only search for possible traces of past life, it will also serve as a “precursor to a human mission to Mars,” NASA scientists said December 27, 2019, when presenting the spacecraft to the press.<br />The Martian robot made its first turns of wheel last week in the large sterile room of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, near Los Angeles, where it was born. It is scheduled to leave Earth in July 2020 from Cape Canaveral (Florida) and land on Mars in February 2021. (Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP)

NASA said it has suspended work on building and testing the rocket and capsule for its Artemis manned mission to the Moon due to the rising number of coronavirus cases in the community.

The space agency is shutting down its Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, where the Space Launch System rocket is being built, and the nearby Stennis Space Center, administrator Jim Bridenstine said late Thursday.

“The change at Stennis was made due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the community around the center, the number of self-isolation cases within our workforce there, and one confirmed case among our Stennis team,” he said.

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“NASA will temporarily suspend production and testing of Space Launch System and Orion hardware. The NASA and contractors teams will complete an orderly shutdown that puts all hardware in a safe condition until work can resume.”

The Space Launch System is a powerful deep-space rocket to transport astronauts to the Moon and beyond while Orion is the crew module.

The virus outbreak could hit US plans to return to the Moon by 2024.

“We realize there will be impacts to NASA missions, but as our teams work to analyze the full picture and reduce risks we understand that our top priority is the health and safety of the NASA workforce,” Bridenstine said.

A manned return to the Moon is the first part of the Artemis program to set up a long-term colony and test technologies for a crewed mission to Mars in the 2030s.

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