Space station crew to blast off despite virus-hit build up

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A three-man crew is set to travel to the International Space Station on Thursday, leaving behind a planet overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner of Russia’s Roscosmos space agency and NASA’s Chris Cassidy will blast off at 08:05 GMT from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, where COVID-19 has caused changes to pre-launch protocol.

Under usual circumstances, the departing crew would face questions from a large press pack before being waved off by family and friends.

Neither will be present this time round because of travel restrictions imposed over the virus, although the crew did respond to emailed questions from journalists in a Wednesday press conference.

Cassidy, 50, admitted the crew had been affected by their families not being unable to be in Baikonur for their blastoff to the ISS.

“But we understand that the whole world is also impacted by the same crisis,” Cassidy said.

Astronauts routinely go into quarantine ahead of space missions and give a final press conference at Baikonur from behind a glass wall to protect them from infection.

That process began even earlier than usual last month as the trio and their reserve crew hunkered down in Russia’s Star City training centre outside Moscow, eschewing traditional pre-launch rituals and visits to the capital.

Roscosmos said on Tuesday that cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka will fly to Russia from the cosmodrome, rather from the usual staging post of Karaganda airport, when he returns to Earth from the ISS later this month.

NASA has not yet confirmed travel plans for Andrew Morgan and Jessica Meir, who will be departing the ISS along with Skripochka on April 17. (AFP)

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