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NASA Moves Rescue Shuttle, Prepares for Hurricane Ike

NASA Moves Rescue Shuttle, Prepares for Hurricane Ike
The space shuttle Endeavour arrives in the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. Endeavour is the backup shuttle for space shuttle Atlantis’ October mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. (Image credit: NASA/Troy Cryder)

The spaceshuttle Endeavour, the rescue ship for NASA?s planned October mission to theHubble Space Telescope, moved a step closer to the launch pad Thursday as theagency closed down its Houston-based astronaut training center to prepare foran incoming hurricane.

Endeavourrolled out of its processing hangar at NASA?s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) inCape Canaveral, Fla., at 7:01 a.m. EDT (1101 GMT) and made the short trek tothe agency?s cavernous Vehicle Assembly Building within an hour, KSCspokesperson Candrea Thomas told

?They?llattach the orbiter to its external fuel tank and the solid rocket boosters onthe Mobile Launch Platform,? Thomas said of the upcoming work. Engineers planto roll the spacecraft out of the 52-story Vehicle Assembly Building and on toits seaside Pad 39B launch site on Sept. 18. The shuttle Atlantis is alreadyperched atop the nearby Pad 39A for its planned launch next month.

Endeavouris slated to launch newsupplies and equipment to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA?sSTS-126 mission set to lift off on Nov. 12. But the shuttle is also pullingdouble duty as a rescue ship for its sister ship Atlantis, which is currentlyscheduled to launch seven astronauts on a finalservice call to the Hubble Space Telescope on Oct. 10.

Because Atlantismust fly in a higher orbit and different inclination than the space station toreach Hubble, the shuttle will not be able to ferry its crew to the ISS toawait rescue if the spacecraft suffers critical damage. Instead, NASA ispreparing Endeavour and a minimal four-astronaut crew to launch a rescuemission and retrieve the Atlantis crew in a series of three unprecedented shuttle-to-shuttlespacewalks. Mission managers and Atlantis? STS-125 astronauts have said itis extremely unlikely they?ll ever need the plan, but it was vital to beprepared.

Bracingfor Ike

Whileengineers in Florida prepare Atlantis and Endeavour for their respectivelaunches, NASA officials closed the Johnson Space Center in Houston due to thethreat of violent weather associated with Hurricane Ike.

Currently aCategory 2 hurricane, Ike is centered about 470 miles (760 km) east-southeastof Galveston, Texas, with maximum sustained winds reaching speeds of 100 mph(160 kph), according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm is expected tostrengthen into a major hurricane before reaching the Texas gulf coast thisweekend, the center reported.

The JohnsonSpace Center is home to NASA?s astronaut training facilities and MissionControl centers for space shuttle flights and the International Space Station. Thespace station Mission Control was also closed, with back up teams in place nearAustin, Texas, and in Hunstville, Ala., NASA officials said.

The spacecenter?s closure will require NASA to suspend training activities for theSTS-125 astronauts preparing for the HubbleSpace Telescope overhaul. It also delayed plans for a mission readinessmeeting originally targeted for today.

?Theclosing prompted space shuttle program manager John Shannon to postpone untilsometime next week the STS-125 program-level Flight Readiness Review that hadbeen scheduled for today and Friday,? NASA officials said in a status report.

Thomas saidthat Atlantis? STS-125 crew is due to head to the Kennedy Space Center on Sept.21 for several days of launch rehearsal training. Any scheduled changes due toHurricane Ike, if any, will be assessed next week, she added.

?We don?tknow if it will have an impact, but for right now everything is still scheduledthe way that it was,? Thomas said.


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Tariq Malik

SPACE.COM EDITOR IN CHIEF — Tariq joined the team in 2001 as a staff writer, and later editor, covering human spaceflight, exploration and space science. He became's Managing Editor in 2009. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times. 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. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Google+, Twitter and on Facebook.