NASA has announced progress toward reopening by taking the initial steps back to normal operations due to the recent recovery reports of the COVID-19 pandemic, the administration reported on Monday.
“It will be a while before we have people stop telecommuting,” said Steve Jurczyk, NASA associate administrator. “I cannot predict how long we will be in that mode.” Allowing more work on-site will depend on the availability of antibody tests or a COVID-19 vaccine, he suggested.
A majority of NASA’s centers have gone into Stage 3, which permits some more mission-critical activities at the centers. Jurczyk noted that the vast majority of NASA personnel have been able to work remotely, and projected that after restrictions are lifted, many people will continue to do so, either because they are in high-risk health categories or because of efficiency.
Jurczyk noted that less of the workforce would have permanent offices and instead would work from home more frequently using the “hoteling” system. The system will utilize a desk for those times they need to be on-site to reduce the office space required at headquarters and centers.
“Some things we won’t change because we learned how to do it better,” Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science. "For example, NASA converted review panels of research proposals from in-person to online meetings. Many of them are working really, really well in the new format," he said. “We’re going to keep doing that.”
While the administration will continue to have the option to telework, Jurczyk noted that the change in the workplace environment has introduced new stressors. “One thing we worry about is burnout,” he said. “People are working way more than 40 hours a week.”
In addition to the phased reopening and revisions to the work environment, NASA has partnered with its European and Japanese counterparts to leverage their respective geospatial intelligence resources to collect data on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
NASA said that the agency has teamed up with the European Space Agency (ESA) and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to deploy Earth-observing satellites to document the pandemic’s potential long-term impacts as part of the initiative.
The three agencies also jointly developed the COVID-19 Earth Observation Dashboard to integrate data from multiple sources in an effort to provide a comprehensive picture of changes in air quality, shipping activity and agricultural production amid the health crisis.