Farewell in camera. The traditional press conference organized on the eve of any space launch was distinguished, Wednesday, April 8, by the compulsory absence of families and journalists. This radical measure was imposed in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic to avoid any risk of contamination of the crew preparing to take off for the International Space Station (ISS).
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The takeoff of the new Soyuz M16 rocket, Thursday, April 9 at 9:05 a.m. (Paris time) was broadcast live from the Baikonur space base in Kazakhstan. After six hours of flight time, the crew, made up of two Roskosmos cosmonauts and a NASA astronaut, were to arrive at the station around 3:15 p.m.
Avoid contamination on board
“All of our crews must remain in quarantine for two weeks before launch. This ensures that they are not sick or do not incubate a disease when they arrive at the space station, this is called “health stabilization” “, Courtney Beasley of NASA told CNN.
To avoid contamination by coronavirus on board the station, the statutory two-week confinement period for crew members has been extended to one month. “We were completely isolated during the last preparations for the mission”, said cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin.
If containment and isolation measures are part of the training, the restriction of family visits has weighed on the astronauts. “Obviously we would like to have our families here with us, but this is what we understand we need to do to be safe,” confessed at a press conference to 50-year-old astronaut Chris Cassidy, before declaring that the crew was ” affected » by this lack of human contact.
Expedition members began confinement on March 12 at the Star City training center near Moscow. The Russian capital has since become a hotbed of the epidemic in the country, and containment measures have been stepped up for the crew, particularly deprived of the traditional visit to the tomb of the first man in space, Iouri Gagarin.
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These measures are all the more important since the expedition members who left before the start of the pandemic, have never been confronted with the virus. For their return, scheduled for April 17, the Russian and American space agencies have already established an appropriate protocol: reinforced sanitary measures for teams specializing in the reception of astronauts, reduced staff and distancing measures: contacts with crew members will be limited to the maximum.