NASA's moon mission on hold due to coronavirus

The hardware for the SLS and Orion are being placed in storage, so that work can resume once the virus threat has subsided.

Rick Docksai | Apr 13, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has caused NASA to suspend work on the launch system and space vehicle that it has been developing for an upcoming crewed mission to the Moon. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced March 19 that the agency's Michoud assembly facility and Stennis Space Center are shutting down because of rising numbers of cases in their local areas.

The White House had tasked NASA with sending a crewed flight to the Moon in 2024. It would be the first crew to reach the Moon since the final Apollo mission in 1972.

Development teams at the two NASA facilities had been constructing and testing the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion module, both of which will be components in this future mission: The SLS will launch the crew to space, and the module will transport them to lunar orbit. But engineers said that this recent the coronavirus-related work suspension makes it exceedingly difficult for NASA to hold to that timetable.

"It's just incredibly humbling," Sara Seager, an astrophysicist at MIT, told the Atlantic. "Because we think we're so great, right? We can launch all these spacecraft. We're just so powerful. And now we're just basically knocked into a standstill."

The hardware for the SLS and Orion are being placed in storage, so that work can resume once the virus threat has subsided. NASA has also postponed a meeting of the National Space Council, chaired by Vice-President Mike Pence, which was to take place March 24 and was to be a discussion about NASA's moon mission plans.