While NASA'sJohnson Space Center (JSC) sat all but empty Friday awaiting the arrival ofHurricane Rita, two other Gulf Coast space facilities are also preparing forthe storm.
NASAofficials said only a small security team - rather than a ride out crew -remainedat JSC, which shut down Wednesday as Hurricane Rita grew in strength. The stormis expected to make landfall on the Texas Gulf Coast early Saturday.
"JohnsonSpace Center will be closed at least through Monday," NASA spokesman AllardBeutel said, adding that stretching the closure to Tuesday was also apossibility depending Hurricane Rita's impact.
JSC and itssurrounding area are prone to flooding,a primary concern since the space center sits less than one mile from GalvestonBay.
Meanwhile,40 emergency personnel hunkered down at NASA's New Orleans-based MichoudAssembly Facility, where space shuttle external tanks are built, while askeleton crew watched over Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, Beutel said.
NASAofficials said Michoud crews were using nets and blue tarps to shield shuttlefuel tanks from damage during the impending storm. Stennis officials expected heavyrain and wind from Hurricane Rita.
Both Michoudand Stennis suffered damage this month from Hurricane Katrina,a Category 4 hurricane that slammed into the Gulf Coast three weeks ago and devastatedNew Orleans, the Mississippi coast and other areas.
Beutel said100 Michoud employees had returned to the New Orleans facility before once moreevacuating to avoid Hurricane Rita. They were relocated to Pensacola, Florida,NASA officials added.
As of Friday,Hurricane Rita was a Category 3 storm, weakening from a Category 5 - the higheston Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale - earlier this week.
JSC is hometo NASA's space shuttle and International Space Station (ISS) mission controls.ISS flight controllers powered down their consoles Wednesday as the spacecenter shut down, turningflight operations over to Russian mission controllers in Korolev, justoutside Moscow.
The laststorm to threaten space station operations at JSC was Hurricane Lili in 2002during ISS Expedition 5, NASA officials said, adding that flight control wasshifted to Korolev then as well.
NASAofficials have set up a call-in number (877-470-5240)for JSC employees to check in after Hurricane Rita has passed.