Space travel during a worldwide pandemic sounds like something that would be warned about in a sci-fi movie. With many worries and doubts, perhaps we should press pause on space exploration for now.
The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule Resilience launched from the Kennedy Space Center Nov. 15 and successfully arrived at the International Space Station Nov. 17. This is a huge accomplishment for SpaceX, but it must be watched with a close eye, as a launch during a pandemic is unprecedented.
COVID-19 cases are surging back here on Earth, with all states reporting a rise. Hospitals are being slammed again, and doctors are urging people to try and flatten the curve especially with Thanksgiving right around the corner.
Many precautions were taken before the launch, including owner and founder of SpaceX, Elon Musk, being unable to attend the launch itself due to two positive COVID tests. However, the biggest question is why even take such a huge risk?
Sending astronauts up to an enclosed space with only circulated air sounds like a health nightmare waiting to happen. Research has shown that COVID spreads best when people are in close range. In the same article put out by the CDC, it explains how enclosed spaces and poor ventilation can lead to spread even when an infected person is no longer in the room.
The astronauts themselves quarantined with their families up until two weeks before the launch, before entering a stricter quarantine. However, it is unclear how often they were tested. NASA and SpaceX have explained how they’ve handled the pandemic and launch, seeming extremely confident.
All of this may be a moot point, as COVID has proved to be very unpredictable. In New Zealand, a country with one of the most aggressive COVID responses, had a small outbreak back in August. It was traced back to a single man, and yet there was no idea or indication as to how he could have caught it. Despite all the precautions taken, the astronauts could very well be putting themselves in danger. What if one of them got sick and needed immediate medical attention? Sure, there is medical equipment onboard but what if an astronaut’s condition got so bad that it became a life or death situation? This kind of situation has never happened before, so why put lives and health on the line?
This is not to say that all work in SpaceX or any other companies needs to come to a grinding halt. But to say, scientists should rather focus on development here on Earth while the pandemic is going on. With all the talk of vaccines, COVID may hopefully be going away sometime soon.
That in mind, it’s easy to wonder why this launch simply couldn’t be postponed a few months. Space exploration is no doubt important; it helps create technologies we still use today, such as phone cameras and portable computers, both things that were first created for space travel. Space discoveries also help to bring people together, as was seen when the first astronauts landed on the moon; American pride was extremely high during that time. However there have been many important finds during the pandemic. Water was detected on the moon, along with dozens more discoveries that have happened this year alone. All of these were done with feet planted firmly on the earth.
While this SpaceX launch is exciting and monumental, the dangers outweigh the good it may possibly do. For now, astronauts should do as everyone else is, and keep their space.