The International Space Station (ISS) might be in danger of getting infected by the COVID-19 virus after it was revealed that a launch official tested positive for the disease. The official was present during the latest launch event to the ISS.

On April 9, Russia launched the Soyuz MS-16 mission to transport two cosmonauts and one NASA astronaut to the ISS. The spacecraft was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, a spaceport in southern Kazakhstan.

Confirming Evgeniy Mikrin COVID-19 Test Results

Alian bacteria
Alian bacteria (Representational picture) Pixabay

The event was attended by various officials from Russia. Some of them include Evgeniy Mikrin, the deputy head of Energia Rocket and Space Corporation. Along with Dmitry Rogozin, the head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, Mikrin oversaw the launch of the Soyuz MS-16 mission.

A source confirmed to the Russian news agency TASS that Mikrin recently tested positive for COVID-19. According to the report, Mikrin tested positive twice for the virus following the launch of the Soyuz MS-16. A different report by the news agency noted that he is one of the 30 Russian space personnel infected with the virus.

Contact Tracing For Evgeniy Mikrin

Super Typhoon Trami is seen from the International Space Station as it moves in the direction of Japan, September 25, 2018 in this image obtained from social media on September 26, 2018.
Super Typhoon Trami is seen from the International Space Station as it moves in the direction of Japan, September 25, 2018 in this image obtained from social media on September 26, 2018. ESA/NASA-A.Gerst/via REUTERS

Due to Mikrin's status, officials in Russia have already started contact tracing to check the individuals he had been in contact with prior to testing positive for coronavirus. For the Soyuz MS-16 mission, Mikrin flew from Moscow to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in a government plane along with Rogozin. Then, after reaching the spaceport, the Roscosmos head was spotted standing next to the crew of the mission, which includes the cosmonauts Anatoli Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner, and NASA astronaut Christopher Cassidy.

"He was on the same plane with the head of the state space corporation Dmitry Rogozin who was later talking directly to cosmonauts," local media outlet Moskovsky Komsomolets stated in a report. Since it is possible that Mikrin may have passed the virus to people he came into close contact with, space agencies are worried that the COVID-19 disease might reach the ISS through the crew of the Soyuz MS-16 mission.

ISS' Safety And Quarantine Protocols

Fortunately, the ISS implements strict quarantine procedures for its crew members, especially for those who are just arriving at the station. Both crew and cargo are also disinfected thoroughly upon reaching the ISS. Also, prior to the launch of missions to the ISS, both crew members and flight personnel practice various safety precautions to ensure that Earth-based contaminants will not reach space and the station.

The ISS has been practicing strict quarantine and safety protocols even before the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. As noted by Dan Huot, the NASA spokesperson for the ISS, these procedures have been very effective in keeping the station free from Earth-based diseases and viruses. "The ISS Program has always had requirements in place to address preventing any disease-causing agent from being transferred to the ISS and thus potentially to the flight crew," he told Discover Magazine. "The processes in place have been very effective in this regard.