Johnson Space Center closed through Labor Day to evaluate safety after Harvey
Hurricane Harvey, now a tropical storm, has prompted NASA to cancel an in-flight question and answer session with Expedition 52 astronaut Peggy Whitson, who is currently aboard the International Space Station. Additionally, the Johnson Space Center will remain closed until Sept. 5, 2017, to all but mission mission-essential personnel while officials evaluate the safety of the center.
A 30-minute news conference with Whitson, who has been residing at the outpost since November 2016 and will return to Earth this weekend, was planned for Aug. 30. However, because of the Johnson Space Center’s closure, mission-essential staff will not be able to support the in-flight event.
Moreover, live satellite interviews with NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba, who are in Russia, have also been canceled. The U.S. space agency originally cited a change in the crew’s training schedule for the cancellation, but because the event was planned for Sept. 1, there will also be no staff to support the event.
Vande Hei and Acaba will launch to the space station with cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin on Sept. 12 inside their Soyuz MS-06 spacecraft. Liftoff is scheduled for 5:17 p.m. EDT (21:17 GMT). They will remain at the outpost until February 2018.
Harvey made its first landfall near Corpus Christi, Texas, on Aug. 26 with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph (210 km/h): a Category 4 hurricane. The 280-mile (450-kilometer) wide storm soon stalled over the state before moving back out into the Gulf of Mexico. It made a second landfall on Aug. 30 near the Texas-Louisiana border, this time as a tropical storm with sustained winds of 45 mph (73 km/h).
So far, the storm has dropped more than 50 inches of rain, including in Houston where Johnson Space Center is located, resulting in floods impacting hundreds of thousands of homes and displacing more than 30,000 people. Harvey has caused at least 21 deaths in the United States. Preliminary economic losses are estimated to be between $10 billion to $160 billion.
While the Johnson Space Center originally closed on Aug. 25, sheltering in place were mission-essential personnel. This included flight controllers who maintain constant contact with the International Space Station.
Johnson Space Center’s leadership is continuing to monitor weather conditions as well as the overall situation in Houston. Teams will prepare a full assessment of the center’s status after the storm fully passes.
“Our primary concern is the safety of our employees and all our fellow Houstonians,” said Johnson Director Ellen Ochoa in a statement on NASA’s website. “We’re taking these measures to ensure the members of our team and their families can take care of themselves and their neighbors.”
According to NASA, closing the center will allow employees to avoid flooded roads and attend to the needs of their families. Additionally, it allows for essential employees to focus on the highest-priority missions, including the landing of three ISS crew members over the Labor Day weekend. The trio – Whitson, NASA astronaut Jack Fischer, and cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin – will land in their Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft at 9:22 p.m. EDT Sept. 2 (01:22 GMT Sept. 3), 2017, in Kazakhstan.
Video courtesy of NOAA
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a blog about the International Space Station, called Orbital Velocity.