Hurricane Harvey, the storm called "unprecedented" by the National Weather Service, has forced the closure of Houston's famed NASA Johnson Space Center.
The "Houston" addressed by astronauts from countless space launches, both real and fictional, is now completely off-limits with one crucial exception: Flight controllers and essential personnel tasked with maintaining with the International Space Station (ISS) are hunkered down in the space center. "Due to school closures and the likelihood of flooding and power outages across the JSC and surrounding Houston area," a memo released yesterday said, "it is unreasonable to expect employees to telework safely."
The ISS personnel at Johnson are also preparing to monitor a thruster firing on the station Saturday, which will raise the lab's orbit slightly to put the ISS on the proper trajectory for three crew members to leave the station next Saturday, headed for a landing in Kazakhstan. Among the crew members returning to Earth is Peggy Whitson, the first woman to command the ISS.
So far, Harvey's tumult has not gotten through NASA's many protective layers around the crucial equipment at Johnson. The James Webb Space Telescope, for example, the $8.6 billion successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, is sealed in a thermal vacuum chamber at Johnson first used in the Apollo era. NASA released a statement saying "there are no concerns" regarding the telescope and other essential equipment, however the flood waters surrounding the facility will likely continue to rise and rain continues to fall in Houston.
The ISS flew over Houston this weekend with the hopes of getting a photo of the cataclysmic storm. While the photos were successful, the astronauts found themselves in the unusual position of having no one to downlink their photo data. SpaceflightNow a conversation with mission control telling the ISS, "We do not have an ops plan on this shift because of Harvey, ironically, so we will get them when we can."