Traditions that spacefarers have observed for decades have fallen foul of efforts to rein in the coronavirus pandemic as astronauts and cosmonauts face more stringent quarantine measures before they blast into orbit.
The next crew bound for the International Space Station, the ultimate destination for self-isolation, will break with ceremony next month and not lay a red carnation at the Kremlin wall where Yuri Gagarin’s ashes are interred. Nor will they visit his office at Star City, which preserves everything as it was on the day the first man in space died in a 1968 training flight crash.
The customary visits were never crowded events, but in keeping with the lockdowns and social distancing measures brought in around the world, space agencies and their staff are not taking any chances.
“All the traditions are scrapped,” said Frank De Winne, the head of the European Space Agency’s astronaut corps, who received his test pilot degree from the Empire Test Pilots’ school in Boscombe Down, Wiltshire. “The crew is locked up and cannot see anybody except those who are screened.”
Before the virus arrived, space station crews spent two weeks in full quarantine at the Baikonur launch site in southern Kazakhstan, but were free to attend ceremonies and farewell meals in Moscow before flying out to the cosmodrome. The tougher measures mean crews, including the Nasa astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Anatoli Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner, who are due to launch on 9 April, must now be quarantined for two weeks before they even reach Baikonur.