Today (Wednesday) the launch of the SpaceX Cres Dragon was scrubbed 17 minutes before the scheduled liftoff. The astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, were quarantined for two weeks before the launch; the quarantine was not due to Covid-19, but the quarantine was routine for International Space Station occupants because they do not bring infectious diseases to the space station: it is a confined space.
The space station has a crew of six at the most. It is probably the most isolated spot in the world, it probably is the safest spot in the world to ride out of the coronavirus pandemic. We in the United States, or at least, we in New York or New Jersey, suffer through strictest self-isolation possible, but we can walk around the block, go shopping, ride a bicycle, and get take-out food for a variety of restaurants. Imagine living in the International Space Station for one day, let alone up to six months.
We are encouraged to practice social distancing, keeping at least six feet apart from one another. If an astronaut goes on an extravehicular activity (a spacewalk), he might as well be 240 miles (straight down) from the nearest human.
Speaking of social distancing, we are going to read the Book of Ruth this Saturday. The Book of Ruth tells the story of Naomi (you all know the story) and her husband who fled Judah to Moab in the face of famine with their two sons. Naomi’s husband died, and the two sons took wives, Orpah and Ruth. The two sons died, and Naomi, learning that the famine had ended, left for Judah. Her two daughters-in-law tried to accompany her, but Naomi urged the two women to stay in Moab. Orpah heeded her instructions but Ruth stubbornly accompanied Naomi.
The Book is short: four short chapters. It tells a story how Ruth stayed by Naomi’s side the whole journey (the journey is short, but it was undoubtedly perilous), and she was rewarded by marrying the most prominent and richest man in town.
In our self-isolation, many of us live with people in close proximity; sometimes we might think it would be better to live alone. (People living alone would probably give their right arm to live with another person.) Nine or ten weeks we have been locked down except to go shopping or go on rides, and we have (at best) discovered teamwork, cooperation, and sharing. Naomi and Ruth discovered teamwork and cooperation and sharing, and the occupants of the International Space Station of necessity discovered teamwork, cooperation, and sharing. Out society will open up again, but we should not forget the lessons of forced cohabitation in a confined space.