SpaceX launches two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station. Despite concerns over coronavirus, Florida’s space industry moves forward. Photo: NASA
When astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken launched from Kennedy Space Center last month, NASA and SpaceX made history. It was the first human launch from the U.S. since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011 — and the public-private partnership did it in the middle of a global pandemic.
Coronavirus has hit Florida’s economy hard. The region’s tourist industry appears to have taken the biggest hit, but on the space coast rockets continue to launch and aerospace businesses have by and large kept their doors open.
“For the most part, the space industry has done a pretty good job of responding and adapting to COVID,” said Space Florida’s Dale Ketcham. NASA and SpaceX took extra precautions to keep Hurley, Behnken and all the employees working to launch the duo safe in an age of social distancing, deep cleaning and looming concerns over coronavirus.
The mission is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew program — a $6 billion partnership with commercial companies SpaceX and Boeing to launch astronauts to the station, ending a nearly decade-long reliance on the Russian space agency for rides to the station.
The launch happened as the pandemic shuttered businesses across the country. In Florida, the shutdowns have decimated the state’s lucrative tourism industry. Statewide more than 2 million people have applied for unemployment benefits.