Mar 24, 2020

Coronavirus Pandemic Impact on Space Programs Part I

Posted by in categories: employment, health, space, space travel

By Bill D’Zio March 24, 2020 (Originally posted on

WestEastSpace mapped out NASA locations on a map of COVID19 impacted areas of USA from as of March 23rd, 2020With the launch window for NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover opening in a little less than four months, there are nearly daily pre-launch milestones to complete the rover pre flight activities at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Tight schedules on complex missions usually do not mix well. Now NASA has to contend with another challenge. COVID19.

NASA Leadership Assessing Mission Impacts of Coronavirus

The world has come to a standstill and is in the grasps of the COVID-19. The world stock markets have come crashing down 30% as supply chains and companies attempt to deal with government response and public fear. Airlines and hotels have had to contend with decreased travel and lodging requirements. Logistics is impacted as factories in various countries deal with increased difficulty and requirements to obtain goods. Factories are closed leading to shortages for truckers, material movers, cargo agents, and other occupations directly involved in moving goods. Companies shift to working remotely in an attempt to comply with government guidance in attempts to minimize the impact of the virus. One Mars mission has already been sidelined because of COVID19. NASA also needs to contend with these challenges.

NASA has made several statements regarding the recent coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Like many American companies, NASA leadership has stated employees will work from home.

“We are going to take care of our people. That’s our first priority,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

NASA has implemented what they call NASA Response Framework. The framework starts at Stage 1(least severe) and increases to Stage 4(most severe). Although most of the NASA remains under a Stage 3 status, with mandatory telework for all employees with limited exceptions for on-site work. Ames, Michoud, and Stennis are at Stage 4 with personnel on-site to protect life and critical infrastructure only. As a result, much of NASA is working from home. Contract employees in many cases will be also working from home when their activities are non-essential but are being coordinated with their contracting officer’s representative. NASA Facilities are closed, except to protect life and critical infrastructure.

“NASA leadership is determined to make the health and safety of its workforce its top priority as we navigate the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation. To that end, the agency’s Michoud Assembly Facility and Stennis Space Center are moving to Stage 4 of the NASA Response Framework, effective Friday, March 20.

The closure of these facilities to has a major impact on NASA missions. NASA leadership is reviewing options to keep work underway across all missions, projects, and programs. NASA’s goal is to identify tasks into groups:

  1. Can be done remotely by employees at home
  2. Mission-essential work that must be performed on-site
  3. On-site work that will be paused

The agency has defined mission-essential work as that which must be performed to maintain critical mission operations to ensure the schedule of time-sensitive mission-critical launches, or work to protect life and critical infrastructure.What Kills Space Projects — a quick history review

With over fifty years of experience in space missions, NASA has seen what works and what doesn’t work. For example, there is a long list of missions to Mars that have failed completely or partially. Some missions have failed from what would seem like issues that could have been predicted or stopped easily. Usually, those types of failures are predictable and preventable.

The relationship between complexity, risk and cost for space missions has been well documented with the lessons learned from past spaceflight successes and failures. A good book that touches on these risks is Douglas Hubbard and his book The Failure of Risk Management. In the book covers an evaluation of the NASA risk framework was completed and showed some very interesting relationships.

Mars (1998) Polar Lander was planed to set down on the frigid terrain near the edge of Mars’ south polar cap and dig for water ice with a robotic arm. Piggybacking on the lander were two small probes called Deep Space 2 designed to impact the Martian surface to test new technologies. The Mars (1998) Polar Lander and Deep Space 2 were both lost at arrival December 3, 1999. CREDIT NASA

A plot of mission complexity against schedule distribution showed that all of the partial or complete failures occur in the bottom third of the distribution indicating a strong correlation. (a partial failure means that the mission was able to continue or complete some of the original objectives)

Establishment of a ‘‘no-fly zone’’ can be done defining criteria where based on the complexity of the project the sufficient time or money to develop a system was not allocated. In short, when NASA… (Click here to read full article)

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