KSC shutting down – latest

by Chris Bergin

The Kennedy Space Center in Florida has decided to close down ahead of Monday’s arrival of Hurricane Wilma.

KSC’s three Orbiters, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour have had their payload bay doors closed and sealed to protect them from any potential rainfall leaking through their respective Orbiter Processing Facility roofs. Staff have been told not to go to work on Monday.

Wilma – currently a Category 2 force Hurricane – is making a beeline for the west coast of Florida and is expected to hit sometime early Monday, local time.

While the hurricane is expect to lose strength once it hits land, due to the transit speed it is gaining over the Gulf of Mexico, KSC can still expect sustained winds of around 100 kilometres an hour.

Last year KSC was hit by two Hurricanes – Frances and Charly – albeit ones that didn’t head directly for the US spaceport. However, they still caused major damage to the area, most notably by the impact on the huge Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), which has only recently had the giant US flag repainted to the outside of the building.

This season has seen an indirect impact on Space Shuttle operations, with Hurricane Katrina hitting the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) in New Orleans. While the factory was spared most of the devastation suffered in the area, the resulting downtime – added to the effects on the local workforce – has played a part in pushing back the next Space Shuttle mission to May, 2006.

A rideout crew will stay at KSC overnight, watching over the three Orbiters, with NASA noting they hope to reopen on Tuesday to assess any damage Wilma may have caused.

The New Horizons spacecraft – set for a January launch to Pluto from Cape Canaveral – has also been secured in preparation of the hurricane’s arrival.

WILMA ALERT: See latest news thread: http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/forums/thread-view.asp?tid=631&start=31&posts=37

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