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A crowd on a bridge in Florida watching the final space shuttle launch in 2011. Photo: NASA/Frank Michaux

NASA is trying to keep its people and the public on the ground safe during the historic launch on May 27 to the International Space Station in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Why it matters: Thousands of people have shown up on Florida's beaches up and down the Space Coast to watch crewed launches in the past. For this historic launch — which will mark the first time astronauts take flight from U.S. soil since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011 — NASA would typically expect more.

  • Many counties in Florida have lifted their stay-at-home orders, but there are cautions about gatherings of people, meaning NASA has to worry about both the safety of astronauts and the observers.

Details: Both NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken — who are flying to the space station with SpaceX — are in quarantine ahead of the launch in order to protect them from potentially contracting the coronavirus or other illnesses.

  • "Our crew will be tested for coronavirus before they go. If that test were to come back positive, of course, we wouldn't send them to the International Space Station," NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said during a media roundtable last week.

At the same time, Bridenstine has urged members of the public not to travel to Kennedy Space Center for the launch, saying that the popular tourist destination will be closed to the public.

  • "We have other missions that need to go forward," Bridenstine added. "We don't want to risk the health of the people who work at Kennedy."

The big picture: Usually NASA welcomes a variety of special guests — occasionally including celebrities — to watch launches in person from Florida, but next week's mission will be slightly different.

  • "We do intend to have a very small group of VIPs that would include members of Congress and senators and maybe some members of the National Space Council," Bridenstine said.
  • NASA has also limited the number of press on site allowed to cover the launch in person.

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Aug 11, 2020 - Science

SpaceX and ULA pull in huge defense contracts

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket takes flight. Photo: SpaceX

The Space Force's announcement last week that United Launch Alliance and SpaceX will launch expensive spy satellites and other military payloads brings a long and often fierce battle for government funds to an end — at least for now.

Why it matters: This type of government money — particularly in light of the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic — is key for space companies that often work on thin margins.

Updated 9 hours ago - Sports

The potential GOAT of chess faces intriguing challenger

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The World Chess Championship between Norway's Magnus Carlsen and Russia's Ian Nepomniachtchi began on Friday, 1,094 days after Carlsen won his fourth consecutive title.

Why it matters: During the long, COVID-fueled layoff, chess entered a new era, and with the championship finally here, the age-old game is ready for its close-up.

Department of Interior proposes raising cost of drilling on public lands

A horizontal drilling rig and a pump jack sit on federal land in Lea County, New Mexico. Photo: Callaghan O'Hare/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Oil and gas companies should pay more to drill on federal lands and waters, the Department of the Interior argued in a report released Friday, saying that the current rates were "outdated."

Driving the news: The Department of Interior report said that the federal government's oil and gas leasing and permitting program "fails to provide a fair return to taxpayers, even before factoring in the resulting climate-related costs that must be borne by taxpayers."