NASA Safeguards Shuttle Atlantis, Fuel Tank Against Storm

NASA Safeguards Shuttle Atlantis, Fuel Tank Against Storm
The space shuttle Atlantis rolls into NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Orbiter Processing Facility bay 1, where processing will begin for mission STS-115, the 19th flight to the International Space Station. (Image credit: NASA/KSC.)

CAPE CANAVERAL - Theorbiter Atlantis rolled from the Vehicle Assembly Building back into its hangarTuesday as NASA prepared Kennedy Space Center for high winds and heavy rainsfrom a storm brewing offshore.

And the external tank for the next shuttle mission is scheduled to be movedinto the VAB today.

NASA meteorologistsforecast sustained winds of 23 mph today with gusts up to 40 mph.

The storm -- which was expected to strengthen into Tropical Storm Ophelia --threatened to dump as much as 15 inches of rain in some areas. Five to 10inches were expected elsewhere.

"The big concern isthat it's a slow-mover, and there's going to be a lot of rain, so there couldbe flooding in low-lying areas," KSC spokesman George Diller said.

More rain and winds topping58 mph are expected at KSC on Thursday.

NASA plans to move theexternal tank for its next shuttle mission into the 52-story KSC VehicleAssembly Building today.

Secured inside a coveredbarge, the 154-foot-long tank returned to KSC last week after Hurricane Katrinaprompted NASA to cancel a trip back to Michoud Assembly Facility in NewOrleans.

Damage from Katrina forced NASA to indefinitely close the factory, whichremains reachable only via helicopter and boat.

The fuel tank could rideout the storm on the barge if necessary, KSC spokeswoman Jessica Rye said.

Engineers say it would be safe there even if the storm developed into aCategory 1 hurricane with winds between 74 and 95 mph.

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Aerospace Journalist

Todd Halvoron is a veteran aerospace journalist based in Titusville, Florida who covered NASA and the U.S. space program for 27 years with Florida Today. His coverage for Florida Today also appeared in USA Today, and 80 other newspapers across the United States. Todd earned a bachelor's degree in English literature, journalism and fiction from the University of Cincinnati and also served as Florida Today's Kennedy Space Center Bureau Chief during his tenure at Florida Today. Halvorson has been an independent aerospace journalist since 2013.