A few months ago, we were roaming freely on the streets, we were normally going to our schools, colleges, and offices. Enjoying meals in your favorite restaurants was as easy as having breakfast on your bed. Meeting people, hugging them, shaking hands with them was a normal routine for us. But then, there was an outbreak; An outbreak of a pandemic! Coronavirus gave the entire world a surprise visit and everything came to a halt!

The schools got closed, the roads were sealed, personal meetings got changed to virtual ones and we got locked inside our own homes (yes, except those in essential services, who are on toes even during the lockdown to serve us). In short, the entire world has come to a standstill, and the things are not any different for the space agencies as well! So today, let’s delve deeper into how has the outbreak of coronavirus has impacted the space industry.

Also read: All the articles of the Basics of Astrophysics series

Coronavirus illustration
An artist’s depiction of the novel coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19.
(Image: © CDC)

The impact of coronavirus on space agencies:

Did we ever imagine a small virus, just 125nm in diameter affecting the launch of giant space missions? But to our stupefaction, this has occurred. A prime example of this is the delay in the launch of ExoMars Rover. The ExoMars Rover which was being built by ROSCOSMOS and ESA and was supposed to be launched in July 2020, has been postponed to a whopping 2 years! Now it might have come to your mind that why 2 years?

Well, there are several parameters that need to be considered before any launch, and one such parameter is the preferred alignment of planets. As Earth and Mars will be in a preferred alignment only after a period of about 23 months from now, so taking these factors into consideration, a delay of 2 years has been announced.

ExoMars Rover ESA
Artist Illustration of ExoMars Rover Which was Delayed Due To Ongoing Pandemic
Credits: ESA

Along with this, NASA has also postponed all of its ongoing projects including the James Web Space Telescope, SLS, and the Artemis Program. Yes, you read it right! Even the most awaited James Web Space Telescope has also been postponed. And, the only mission that is being currently worked upon is “Mars 2020” aka Perseverance. The rover needs to be launched within its 3-week launch window starting from July 17. However, if something goes wrong, it will also be postponed for 2 years, similar to ExoMars.

Also Watch: NASA’s plan to fly a helicopter on Mars next year

Well, this is not the end of the story, there’s a lot more happening around the world. For example, ROSCOSMOS has stopped the manufacturing of its Soyuz Rocket due to the coronavirus. Rocket Lab, a private aerospace organization that specializes in launching payload to orbits has also postponed its launches. Even the Starlink being built by SpaceX has been postponed.

The virus has also disrupted the schedule of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) affecting the progress on Gaganyaan (The human spaceflight program of India), Aditya probe (designed to study the Sun), and the Chandrayaan 3 mission (rover on the lunar surface).

Where does the outbreak of the coronavirus lead us as a species?

After all these delays and bad news, there’s at least one good thing that coronavirus has done for us, the earth is healing itself. With all of us humans trapped at home, nature has started to flourish back. Astronomers all over the world have been reporting increased Signal To Noise Ratio, as pollution levels have reduced drastically. Even the seismic noise of Earth is at its lowest for ages.

Conronavirus and environment
Nitrogen dioxide emissions over Spain compared between a 10-day period this month and the monthly average of March 2019.
(Image: © Copernicus Sentinel data (2019-20), processed by KNMI/ESA)

Ultimately, the virus highlights the critical flaws in our society, whether be it in our healthcare systems or in taking one’s responsibility towards the world. It also emphasizes the need for us to become an interplanetary species, as it would drastically improve our chances of survival even if a similar situation breaks out in the future.

The only question that now remains is, whether we humans will be able to utilize the ongoing pandemic as a progressive means to transcend beyond our previous beliefs and practices, and can we really emerge as a species that lives in unison with the planet? Feel free to share your thoughts about the question posed above in the comments below. Thanks for reading, and until next time, stay safe!

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