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NASA Mission Control braces for Hurricane Laura as astronauts watch from space

Mission controllers at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston are bracing for the impact of Hurricane Laura.

Now a Category 4 storm, Laura made landfall early this morning (Aug. 27) at the Texas-Louisiana border, about 125 miles (200 kilometers) east of the center, where the agency conducts its International Space Station operations. 

To prepare for the potentially catastrophic storm, NASA has temporarily closed Johnson Space Center, sending a small team of mission-critical personnel who are  "germane to monitoring and sending commands for the most important station systems" to a backup control hub in central Texas, according to NASA's ISS blog

Related: How Earth-orbiting satellites are tracking the 2020 hurricane season

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NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy shared this photo of Hurricane Laura from the International Space Station on Aug. 26, 2020.

NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy shared this photo of Hurricane Laura from the International Space Station on Aug. 26, 2020. (Image credit: Chris Cassidy/NASA/Twitter)
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NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy shared this photo of Hurricane Laura from the International Space Station on Aug. 26, 2020.

NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy shared this photo of Hurricane Laura from the International Space Station on Aug. 26, 2020. (Image credit: Chris Cassidy/NASA/Twitter)
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NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy shared this photo of Hurricane Laura from the International Space Station on Aug. 26, 2020.

NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy shared this photo of Hurricane Laura from the International Space Station on Aug. 26, 2020. (Image credit: Chris Cassidy/NASA/Twitter)
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NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy shared this photo of Hurricane Laura from the International Space Station on Aug. 26, 2020.

NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy shared this photo of Hurricane Laura from the International Space Station on Aug. 26, 2020. (Image credit: Chris Cassidy/NASA/Twitter)

And just in case the center becomes inaccessible after the storm, the full team of flight controllers has been setting up a backup control room at the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

"As in the past, a backup flight control team is located in Central Texas handling all USOS [United States Operational Segment] operations with a longer-term team located at the Marshall Space Flight Center should that become necessary," NASA spokesman Rob Navias told Space.com in an email. "ISS operations are running smoothly with no impacts or any threat to the crew."

There are currently three crewmembers on board the International Space Station:  NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Anatoli Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner. On Wednesday (Aug. 26) Cassidy tweeted photos of Hurricane Laura taken from the orbiting lab. "Stay safe everyone," he wrote in the tweet.

NASA's Terra satellite acquired this natural-color image of Hurricane Laura on Aug. 26, 2020, as the storm neared the Gulf Coast.  (Image credit: NASA EOSDIS/LANCE/GIBS/Worldview/JPSS/Joshua Stevens)

Johnson Space Center is no stranger to hurricane threats. When Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston area in August 2017, the center was closed for nearly two weeks due to severe flooding. 

Related: Satellite images show Hurricane Harvey's destruction

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) warned that Laura could cause "catastrophic" storm surges and flash flooding along the northwest Gulf Coast on Wednesday night (Aug. 26). However, by Thursday morning the storm surge warning had been lifted in the Houston area, the NHC said in its latest advisory.

Email Hanneke Weitering at hweitering@space.com or follow her @hannekescience. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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