Elon Musk may have Covid-19, putting SpaceX’s plan to launch astronauts this weekend into question

Elon Musk may have Covid-19, putting SpaceX’s plan to launch astronauts this weekend into question


Musk issued a brief series of tweets overnight, stating that he had “mild sniffles,” a “cough” and “slight fever” for the past few days. He added that he is expecting to get the results of a PCR test — which are known to be more accurate than the type of rapid test Musk said he took— within 24 hours.

Meanwhile, Musk’s tweets echoed across the country to Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where four astronauts are preparing to ride into space aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule on Saturday.

NASA chief Jim Bridenstine, who was scheduled to conduct a routine press conference Friday morning, said that, per NASA policies, Musk should be in quarantine and SpaceX should be attempting to determine who might have come into contact with Musk. But it wasn’t yet clear if Saturday’s mission will be affected by the news.

“This news just broke before this press conference,” Bridenstine said, adding that he last spoke to Musk two days ago. “So as far as any contact with the [astronaut] crew, I am unaware of it. That contact tracing should be underway right now.”

When asked if the uncertainty around Musk’s diagnosis might delay the SpaceX mission, Bridenstine replied, “If there are adjustments that need to be made, we will make them.”

SpaceX-NASA launch: What to know ahead of Saturday's Crew Dragon astronaut mission

It’s not clear if SpaceX has already started contact tracing efforts. The company did not respond to requests for comment from CNN Business, nor has SpaceX responded to email or phone inquiries from CNN Business in about six months.

The astronauts slated to fly on Saturday are likely not at risk, Bridenstine added. Even before the pandemic, NASA has said that astronauts abide by pre-flight quarantine rules to ensure they don’t take an illness into space, where viruses and bacteria could rapidly spread among crew members packed onto a spacecraft. NASA has also implemented stricter measures in response to Covid-19, but the astronauts have been staying with their family members and will have to be in close proximity to some NASA and SpaceX employees on launch day.

But it’s also unclear how a positive diagnosis for Musk could impact the ground crews needed to oversee the launch the weekend. Musk is frequently at SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California, which is also home to SpaceX’s mission control center. It’s not clear when Musk was last in contact with key SpaceX or NASA personnel that will need to report for duty this weekend.

Why Musk’s tests may have been wrong

Musk said on Twitter that all four tests he took on Thursday were rapid tests, or “antigen tests,” conducted by the same nurse at the same facility. He alleged in his late-night tweets that something “extremely bogus” was going on, echoing months of earlier tweets in which Musk has expressed doubt about Covid-19’s threat. He also previously shared a YouTube video that was later removed for containing misinformation about the virus.
In a recent interview with journalist Kara Swisher, Musk doubled down on his skepticism, saying he would not take a Covid-19 vaccine when it becomes available and insisted that stay-at-home orders designed to thwart the virus’s spread did more harm than good.
In fact, medical professionals are well aware that rapid antigen tests can be inaccurate and generate false negative or, more rarely, false positive results.
NASA assigns four astronauts to SpaceX mission scheduled for 2021
That’s because PCR tests search for signs of the Covid-19 virus’s genetic material, while antigen tests search for one of the viral proteins, or a small trace of the virus’s presence. And though both types of tests rely on a nasal swab, PCR tests require complicated specialized labs and trained technicians to conduct. That’s why in the early days of the pandemic, PCR tests were heavily backlogged, sometimes taking more than a week to return results. The antigen tests were expected to provide a quicker — albeit less accurate — picture of how the novel coronavirus was spreading throughout the United States.

Per Musk’s tweets, he expects to receive his PCR test results Friday night. He also noted that he was not currently experiencing symptoms, though he “did take NyQuil.”

Two NASA spokespeople declined to comment about the status of the SpaceX mission beyond what Bridenstine told reporters. SpaceX and NASA officials in Florida, however, are expected to host another routine press conference this afternoon to share updates about checks they’re conducting on the SpaceX rocket and spacecraft.



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