Has life changed on the ISS due to COVID-19?

01 June 2020
Presented by Phil Sansom
Production by Phil Sansom.

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The International Space Station (ISS)

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We’re blasting off to the International Space Station to answer this question from listener Fady: "has life changed for astronauts on the ISS due to coronavirus, and are astronauts still allowed to be sent to and from the ISS?" Phil Sansom roped in flight surgeon Filippo Castrucci from the European Space Agency...

In this episode

The International Space Station (ISS)

QotW: Has life on the ISS been affected by coronavirus?

Phil Sansom has been looking up at the International Space Station thanks to this question from listener Fady…

Fady - Has life changed for astronauts on the ISS due to coronavirus, and are astronauts still allowed to be sent to and from the ISS?

Filippo - Astronauts’ lifestyles on the International Space Station have not significantly changed during the coronavirus pandemic. No astronaut physical distancing or donning of personal protective equipment are enforced on board.

Phil - That is Filippo Castrucci, a flight surgeon at the European Space Agency - one of the main organisations involved with the International Space Station.

Filippo - Also, to date, the pandemic has not affected crew changes on ISS. In fact, since the infection started spreading around the world one crew has launched to ISS and two have returned to earth. The next launch is expected as early as this week.

Phil - So why is it business as usual? It’s not that the coronavirus isn’t a huge issue - it’s just that any bug in the astronauts is a big problem, so they’re always on high alert.

Filippo - Crew and crew support personnel are always properly immunised and undergo two weeks of pre-flight quarantine at the launch site. With COVID-19, the quarantine has extended to one month and there is now dedicated and repeated testing.

Phil - As far as anyone knows, that’s more than enough time to let the virus burn itself out.

Filippo - And in the unlikely event that a severe transmissible disease as COVID-19 should be suspected on ISS, given that the astronauts share living spaces, hygiene facilities and air, by the time the first individual shows early symptoms, it is likely that the entire crew is already infected. As the consequences for crew health and mission safety may be severe, and the known severity of COVID-19 exceeds the in-flight treatment capabilities, evacuation back to Earth is the most appropriate measure.

Phil - Meanwhile, other space programs are going ahead too - evan_au mentioned on our forum the Perseverance Mars rover, which if it misses its July launch date, won’t get the right planetary alignment again for 18 months. So NASA have appropriately decided to  persevere. Thanks to Filippo for answering that one. Next week’s question comes courtesy of listener Denise:

Denise - There are plants that contain saponins, and were used by Australian aboriginal people as bush medicine. Aboriginal family members in remote areas are concerned about the coronavirus, but do not have access to hand sanitisers, or even soap. Is there any research on the antiviral properties of saponins?

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