Hurricane Ike Delays Space Station Delivery
This picture of Hurricane Ike was downlinked by the crew of the International Space Station on September 10, 2008. Houston mission control evacuations have forced NASA and Russian officials to delay the docking of a Progress cargo ship with the space station.
Credit: NASA

The impact of Hurricane Ike has reached out into space and delayed the planned Friday arrival of Russian cargo ship at the International Space Station.

The unmanned Russian space freighter Progress 30 was slated to arrive at the space station tomorrow at 5:01 p.m. EDT (2101 GMT), but flight controllers at NASA?s Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston had yet to move the orbiting laboratory?s expansive solar arrays into position for the docking before closing down Thursday to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Ike.

?The Russians and [NASA] came to an agreement today to postpone docking until Wednesday,? said John Yembrick, a NASA spokesperson at the agency?s headquarters in Washington, D.C.

NASA has set up backup space station Mission Control teams near Austin, Texas and in Huntsville, Ala. Yembrick said that the main Mission Control room at JSC is preferred to feather the space station?s U.S. solar arrays into an edge-on position to incoming spacecraft to avoid damage from thruster firings.

If required, the agency could command the solar array movement from a backup center, but mission managers preferred to wait until Wednesday and allow time for NASA personnel to evacuate, Yembrick said.

As of 5:00 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT) today, Hurricane Ike was a Category 2 storm centered about 400 miles (645 km) east-southeast of Galveston, Texas, and expected to strengthen into a major hurricane before making landfall on the Texas gulf coast, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Progress 30 blasted off on Wednesday from the Central Asian spaceport of Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan laden with more than 2 tons of fresh food, equipment and other vital supplies for the space station?s three-man crew 220 miles (354 km) above Earth. The spacecraft will dock at the aft end of the space station?s Russian-built Zvezda module.

Awaiting the orbital delivery at the station are Expedition 17 commander Sergei Volkov and flight engineer Oleg Kononenko, both of Russia, and flight engineer Gregory Chamitoff of NASA. The astronauts have taken several photographs of Hurricane Ike from orbit as it crossed the Atlantic Ocean earlier this week.

Flight controllers at Russia?s Mission Control center outside Moscow will command the unmanned Progress 30 to maneuver into an orbit that will keep the cargo ship at a safe distance from the space station until next week?s planned rendezvous.

Yembrick said the closure of Johnson Space Center for Hurricane Ike has also suspended astronaut training activities for the next two space shuttle missions. Astronauts there are preparing for an Oct. 10 launch to the Hubble Space Telescope on the STS-125 flight, while another crew is gearing up for a planned Nov. 12 launch toward the International Space Station on the STS-126 mission.

The crew of NASA?s shuttle Atlantis plan to overhaul the Hubble Space Telescope one last time during their STS-125 mission. NASA's STS-126 astronauts plan to ferry new supplies and equipment to the space station aboard the Endeavour orbiter. But Ike?s impact on both those launch targets remains uncertain.

?Really, it?s difficult to assess how, or if, it?s going to affect the launch of STS-125,? Yembrick said, adding that mission managers will have a better idea once Hurricane Ike passes.

Earlier today, NASA?s space shuttle program manager John Shannon delayed the start of a planned two-day readiness review for the STS-125 mission to Hubble until next week due to the hurricane.

Meanwhile, engineers at NASA?s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., successfully moved Endeavour from its hangar to the massive Vehicle Assembly Building today to be attached to its external fuel tank and twin solid rocket boosters. The shuttle is slated to roll out to its seaside Pad 39B launch site on Sept. 18, where it will be readied to serve as a rescue ship for Atlantis? October flight to Hubble until time for its own mission to the space station.