CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – NASA’s administrator issued a plea to everyone wanting to watch American astronauts return to space in May: stay home.
Jim Bridenstine and other NASA staff members held a virtual press briefing on Thursday, highlighting what the agency is doing to combat and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“We are asking people to join us in this launch but to do so from home,” Bridenstine said. “We’re asking people not to travel to the Kennedy Space Center.”
The Demo-2 mission will send American astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnke to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule.
It will be carried into orbit by a Falcon 9 rocket on May 27.
It will mark the first time American astronauts have traveled to space aboard an American rocket from American soil since the shuttle program ended in 2011.
“We’re looking at all the things where we can practice the guidelines for social distancing, and at the same time launch this very important mission to the International Space Station,” Bridenstine said.
He said those social distancing measures continued behind-the-scenes.
He said crews working on the Falcon 9 rocket now work on staggered shifts instead of working together.
He said the staff inside mission control will also practice social distancing on launch day. Some will even work in different rooms, where they will be separated by Plexiglas.
The astronauts -- as is standard protocol for all crewed missions -- will be quarantined weeks before the launch.
“This is a big deal for the country,” Bridenstien said. "It’s important for the country. It is our access to the International Space Station, which is a $100 billion investment by the American taxpayers. "
Tourism officials along the Space Coast said they were watching to see if Gov. Ron DeSantis lifts some of the travel restrictions that have been implemented during the coronavirus pandemic.
They said a launch of this magnitude would typically see hundreds of thousands of tourists, giving the region an economic boost.
Peter Cranis, Executive Director for Visit Space Coast, offered this statement to News 6: "We’re excited about the return to human space flight from Florida’s Space Coast and understand the caution around traveling to view this historic launch.
We encourage visitors to follow guidelines set by state and local government and if current orders are updated allowing tourists to stay in our hotels, we would welcome people to do that while abiding by all the guidance given by the Department of Health and CDC.
There is plenty of room along our 72 miles of coastline to watch the launch and practice social distancing but we urge visitors to plan ahead as beachside parking is currently closed for vehicles. For safety we do not want people pulling off on the side of roads or causeways. This is very unsafe and creates life threatening situations.