Work on SLS and Orion Suspended at Stennis and Michoud Due to Coronavirus

Work on SLS and Orion Suspended at Stennis and Michoud Due to Coronavirus

Despite an upbeat assessment yesterday, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced tonight that he is suspending work on the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion spacecraft at two NASA facilities because of the coronavirus.  Stennis Space Center and the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) have been moved to Stage 4 of the agency’s Response Framework, meaning only personnel needed to maintain safety and security are allowed on site.

Last night, Bridenstine said preparations for the SLS Green Run test at Stennis were continuing, but just 24 hours later he has concluded that the rising number of COVID-19 cases in surrounding communities requires him to close both Stennis, near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, and MAF, in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Consequently, work on the much-delayed SLS and Orion will be temporarily suspended.

“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 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.  While there are no confirmed cases at Michoud, the facility is moving to Stage 4 due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the local area, in accordance with local and federal guidelines.

“Mandatory telework is in effect for NASA personnel at both facilities until further notice. Additionally, all travel is suspended. These measures are being taken to help slow the transmission of COVID-19 and protect our communities.   

“Access to Stennis and Michoud will be limited to personnel required to maintain the safety and security of the center, as approved by agency leadership and the resident agencies. All previously approved exceptions for onsite work are rescinded and new approvals will be required in order to gain access to the center.

“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. Once this is complete, personnel allowed onsite will be limited to those needed to protect life and critical infrastructure.

“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.

“I ask all members of the NASA workforce to stay in close contact with your supervisor and check the NASA People website regularly for updates. Also, in these difficult times, do not hesitate to reach out to the NASA Employee Assistance Program, if needed. 

“I will continue to say, so none of us forget – there is no team better prepared for doing hard things. Take care of yourself, your family, and your NASA team.”   — Jim Bridenstine

As detailed in recent reports from NASA’s Office of Inspector General, SLS is considerably over budget and behind schedule, including the Mobile Launchers at Kennedy Space Center needed to transport the rockets to the launch pad.

SLS and Orion are being built to return astronauts to the Moon and someday send them to Mars. The White House directed NASA last year to put the “first woman and the next man” on the surface of the Moon by 2024, the end of a second Trump term if he wins reelection this fall.  Many have been skeptical that such a goal could be achieved in just 5 years and this unforeseeable development will certainly add to those doubts.

NASA’s Response Framework has four stages, of which Stage 4 is the highest.  NASA’s Ames Research Center near San Francisco was placed on Stage 4 last week.  NASA’s other facilities around the country are at Stage 3.

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