NASA had plans to return humans to the Moon in 2024 for the first time since 1972, where it was to establish the lunar base. The mission would see astronauts study the lunar surface in close detail, but also to use the Moon as a checkpoint between Earth and Mars – the space agency’s ultimate goal for humans.
NASA had already begun testing on its rockets for the Artemis Mission, as it is known, at the Stennis Space Center in New Orleans, but the outbreak of COVID-19 has understandably put a spanner in the works.
The space agency has stated that it has temporarily had to suspend work on the Artemis Mission as an employee at Stennis has contracted the virus.
NASA chief Jim Bridenstine said: “The change at Stennis was made due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the community around the centre, the number of self-isolation cases within our workforce there, and one confirmed case among our Stennis team.
“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 SLS rockets
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Mr Bridenstine announced he wants to set up a lunar colony and called on “the best and brightest of American industry to help design and develop “human lunar landers”.
The space agency is also upping the ante in its bid to get humans to Mars.
NASA will hopefully launch the Mars 2020 rover this year, depending on how the COVID-19 outbreak plays out, which will explore the Red Planet as preparation for humanity’s arrival, which could happen in the next decade.
NASA said: “NASA’s latest mission to Mars – a mission that will receive a new name before launch – will be the latest rover to head to the Red Planet, but it’s not going alone.
Apollo 11 timeline
“To aid it in its exploration, it’s carrying the first helicopter that will fly on another planet.”
The confirmed number of coronavirus cases in the US surged above 33,000, with a total of 417 deaths.
New York has now become the epicentre of the virus in the US, accounting for half of the country’s total number of infections.
New York’s mayor, Bill de Balsio, appealed to President Trump to do more to help.
In an interview with CNN, he said: “It feels like we are on our own. We have seen next to nothing from the federal government at this point.”