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NASA Space Center Prepares for Hurricane Dorian as Satellites Track Storm

Updated, 2 p.m. EDT: This story has been updated to note that Kennedy Space Center has decided to move the Mobile Launcher indoors.

NASA's Kennedy Space Center is preparing to weather the arrival of Hurricane Dorian, which could hit Florida early next week.

Those preparations include preparing to protect the massive Mobile Launcher that is currently on a launch pad undergoing testing in part of NASA's Artemis program to land astronauts on the moon in 2024, should the team decide such a move is necessary. The Mobile Launcher is a tower designed to support NASA's Space Launch System megarocket when it's on the launchpad for missions to the moon and beyond.

"We have a hurricane, which is forecast to come to Florida," NASA's Derrol Nail said in a video update from the spaceport, "and so this particular launch tower, which is 400 feet tall, is obviously at risk of being damaged by a hurricane if it makes a hit in this area."

Satellite Photos: See Dorian Close in on Puerto Rico as a Tropical Storm

Dorian became a hurricane on Wednesday (Aug. 28) as it made its way across the Caribbean Sea. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Hurricane Center (NHC), the hurricane is currently forecast to head north-northwest on Friday, turn west across the northern Bahamas over the weekend, and hit Florida on Monday, although that is all still subject to change as the storm develops.

As usual for tropical storms and hurricanes, meteorologists tracking Hurricane Dorian are relying heavily on satellite views of the storm. The latest imagery shows the hurricane from the perspective of NOAA's GOES-East satellite on Aug. 28 and 29. The six astronauts living and working on board the International Space Station can also see the hurricane developing.

Even if the storm ends up turning away, for now, when it comes to the country's leading spaceport, NASA would rather err on the side of safety. 

The agency on Wednesday moved its hulking Apollo-era crawler-transporter out to Launch Complex 39B in order to bring the massive Mobile Launcher inside for the storm. That deployment must be made promptly because the crawler-transporter travels at just 1 mph (1.6 km/h).

The launch tower itself is 400 feet (122 meters) tall, which makes it a clear hazard in the high winds of a hurricane. NASA decided today (Aug. 29) that Dorian is threatening enough to merit moving the launch tower into Kennedy's cavernous 52-story Vehicle Assembly Building for safety. 

The agency made similar decisions during the space shuttle program, which used the crawler-transporter and a Mobile Launch Platform to move orbiters to and from the launchpad, according to Florida Today

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex will be closed on Sunday, Sept. 1, according to a media statement.

Just as NASA prepares for Hurricane Dorian's arrival, so, too, is the private spaceflight company SpaceX, which launches its Falcon Heavy and Falcon 9 rockets from the Kennedy Space Center and the nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. SpaceX is also building a prototype for its new Starship reusable rocket at its Florida facility. 

"In coordination with our partners at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Kennedy Space Center, we are closely monitoring weather conditions and planning to take all necessary precautions to protect our employees and safeguard facilities in the potentially affected areas," a SpaceX spokesperson told Space.com.

Email Meghan Bartels at mbartels@space.com or follow her @meghanbartels. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook. 

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