Hurricane Ike Delays Space Station Delivery

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. (Image credit: NASA)

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

The unmanned Russianspacefreighter Progress 30 was slated to arrive at the space station tomorrow at5:01 p.m. EDT (2101 GMT), but flight controllers at NASA?s Mission Control atthe Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston had yet to move the orbitinglaboratory?s expansive solar arrays into position for the docking beforeclosing down Thursday to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Ike.

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

NASA hasset 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 tofeather the space station?s U.S. solar arrays into an edge-on position toincoming spacecraft to avoid damage from thruster firings.

Ifrequired, the agency could command the solar array movement from a backupcenter, but mission managers preferred to wait until Wednesday and allow timefor NASA personnel to evacuate, Yembrick said.

As of 5:00p.m. EDT (2100 GMT) today, Hurricane Ike was a Category 2 storm centered about400 miles (645 km) east-southeast of Galveston, Texas, and expected tostrengthen into a major hurricane before making landfall on the Texas gulfcoast, according to the National Hurricane Center.

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

Awaitingthe orbital delivery at the station are Expedition 17 commander Sergei Volkovand flight engineer Oleg Kononenko, both of Russia, and flight engineer GregoryChamitoff of NASA. The astronauts have taken several photographs of HurricaneIke from orbit as it crossed the Atlantic Ocean earlier this week.

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

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

The crew ofNASA?s shuttle Atlantis plan to overhaul the Hubble Space Telescope one lasttime during their STS-125 mission. NASA's STS-126 astronauts plan to ferry newsupplies and equipment to the space station aboard the Endeavour orbiter. ButIke?s impact on both those launch targets remains uncertain.

?Really, it?sdifficult 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 onceHurricane Ike passes.

Earliertoday, NASA?s space shuttle program manager John Shannon delayed the start of aplanned two-day readiness review for the STS-125 mission to Hubble until nextweek due to the hurricane.

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



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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.