Three NASA Centers Prepare for Hurricane Rita

Three NASA Centers Prepare for Hurricane Rita
The prediction from the National Weather Service published Sept. 22 at 5 p.m. EDT shows the expected track center of Hurricane Rita in black, with the lighter shaded area indicating the range of potential tracks the storm could take. (Image credit: NASA/JPL/NGA.)

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.

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.