NASA mission controllers are once again in control of the International Space Station (ISS) as the manned spaceflight facility resumes normal operations after Hurricane Rita.
Russian and NASA ISS flight controllers returned primary mission operations to mission controllers at Johnston Space Center in Houston, Texas at 10:00 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT) Monday, NASA spokesperson Kylie Clem told SPACE.com.
"People are coming in today and starting to restart equipment," she said of other JSC personnel.
JSC, NASA's manned spaceflight hub for its ISS and space shuttle operations, shut down last week as Hurricane Rita approached the Texas Gulf Coast. Primary space station control was transferred to NASA's Houston support group and Russian ISS flight controllers in Korolev, outside Moscow, for the first time since October 2002.
The hurricane weakened to a Category 3 storm before making landfall on the southwestern coast of Louisiana. The storm's arrival was a near miss for NASA - earlier projections predicted Rita's landfall at nearby Galveston, Texas - and caused only minor damage to the spaceflight center.
"It seems to have dodged a big one and come through pretty unscathed," NASA spokesperson Dean Acosta said of JSC, adding that space agency chief Michael Griffin was apprised of the damage at the site Monday.
NASA officials said it is still too early to estimate the cost of Rita's damage at JSC, the space agency's third center to suffer hurricane-related damage this month.
NASA's New Orleans-based Michoud Assembly Facility, where engineers build space shuttle external tanks, and Stennis Space Center in Mississippi also braced against Rita's arrival. The storm marked the second hurricane to batter the facilities after Hurricane Katrina damaged both sites three weeks ago.
Michoud reopened Monday for limited work, while inspectors reported no damage at the Stennis facility, home to NASA's shuttle engine tests, NASA officials said.
Meanwhile, up in space, the two astronauts aboard the ISS entered the last visitor-free week of their mission.
ISS Expedition 11 commander Sergei Krikalev and flight engineer John Phillips have lived and worked aboard the space station in mid-April 2006, and are nearing the end of their six-month mission. Their relief crew, Expedition 12 commander Bill McArthur and flight engineer Valery Tokarev, are set to launch toward the station with space tourist Gregory Olsen on Sept. 30 at 11:54 p.m. EDT (0354 Oct. 1 GMT).
Krikalev and Phillips will return to Earth with Olsen on Oct. 10, and are slated to land on the steppes of Kazakhstan at 9:12 p.m. EDT (0112 Oct. 11 GMT).
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