NASA's Hurricane Recovery Could Delay Two Shuttle Flights
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.
Credit: NASA

NASA started what will be a slow recovery from Hurricane Ike at the Houston home of Mission Control on Sunday, one likely to trigger delays in the agency's next two shuttle flights.

Johnson Space Center will remain closed until next week while a relatively small NASA and contractor recovery team restores power and other utilities around the center.

Surrounding communities also will be struggling to recover from a monster storm that left Houston without power and prompted a weeklong curfew between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. to keep people off swamped roadways.

"There are a lot of things around the center that need to be shored up before we can welcome back the work force," NASA spokesman Mike Curie said.

JSC employs 15,000-12,000 of them contractors and 3,000 civil servants. Many live in surrounding communities and still cannot return to homes they evacuated.

The small city of Seabrook just outside the gates to JSC was likened to a disaster area with no power, no sewer service and no passable roadways. The mayor of the town ordered safety officials to turn away residents attempting to return home, according to Associated Press reports.

At the space center, a 65-member "ride-out crew" began mopping up after the roof of Building 30 - which houses the Mission Control Center - was damaged during the storm. The team started clearing debris and restoring power at buildings on a priority basis.

Water is standing in some areas at the center, particularly those closest to Clear Lake, a large body of water that connects to Galveston Bay three miles from JSC. The ability to pump water depends on the restoration of power in surrounding municipalities.

Recovery teams dispatched to the Neutral Bouyancy Laboratory several miles from the center found no major damage at NASA's spacewalk training center.

The weekend shutdown at JSC will make it difficult to maintain an already tight schedule for the planned Oct. 10 launch of shuttle Atlantis on a Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission and the Nov. 12 launch of Endeavour on an International Space Station outfitting flight.

Astronaut and flight controller training for both missions will be stalled until JSC is reopened for normal operations.

The Endeavour flight faces a Nov. 25 launch deadline. The sun angle on the station from Nov. 26 through Dec. 17 will be such that the outpost would not be able to generate enough power, or dispel enough heat, to support a docked shuttle mission.

NASA also would opt not to fly during the Christmas and New Year's holidays, so a delay beyond Nov. 25 likely would push the Endeavour mission to early next year.

NASA activated backup space station Mission Control Centers near Austin, Texas, and Huntsville, Ala., on Thursday, the day the center closed in advance of the storm. The backup centers have limited command-and-control capabilities, so a robotic Russian cargo carrier launched last Wednesday is loitering in orbit near the station.

NASA and the Russian Federal Space Agency opted to delay a planned docking last Friday because the backup control centers cannot feather the station's massive American solar wings.

The giant arrays - which stretch 240 feet from tip to tip - typically are turned edge-on to approaching Progress space freighters to avoid contamination from thrusters spewing exhaust from toxic rocket propellant.

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