KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – Florida's space port is preparing for what could be the first time a major hurricane makes landfall at Kennedy Space Center in the center's history.
Teams at Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Patrick Air Force Base have begun taking steps to prepare for Hurricane Dorian. As of Thursday at noon., the National Hurricane Center put the space center in the storm's cone of uncertainty with a landfall sometime Sunday as a Category 4 hurricane.
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On Wednesday, one of two crawlers began its 4-mile trek at 1 mph from outside the Vehicle Assembly Building to Launch Pad 39B. The journey will take about eight hours. Teams are moving the crawler in case KSC's mobile launch tower, designed for its megarocket the Space Launch System, needs to be brought back into the VAB from Launch Pad 39B.
The 6-million-pound crawler carried Saturn V, the space shuttle and will eventually carry the Space Launch System out to the launch pad.
Just south of the space center the 45th Space Wing entered Hurricane Condition IV, which means Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Patrick Air Force Base teams are preparing for winds in excess of 58 mph within 72 hours.
"During HURCON IV, specialized response teams at Patrick Air Force Base and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station are recalled and briefed on the status of the storm," a news release from the 45th Space Wing said. "Teams will start preparing facilities for the possible arrival of the storm."
Commercial companies that operate at KSC and the Air Force Station are working with local officials to prepare for Dorian.
SpaceX leases launch pads from NASA and the Air Force. The company is also constructing its interplanetary Starship spaceship at a site in Cocoa.
"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 said in an email.
United Launch Alliance operates out of two launch pads at the Air Force Station.
"ULA works closely with the 45th Space Wing to plan and execute hurricane preparation and damage mitigation procedures to ensure the safety and security of our personnel, launch vehicles and infrastructure," a spokesperson for ULA said in an email.
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex will be closed Sunday and Monday. The Visitor Complex will operate during regular hours on Saturday but bus tours will not be available.
If Dorian makes landfall at Cape Canaveral as a major hurricane, it will be the first time in the space center's history. The last time a hurricane made landfall near the Cape was in 1915, more than 40 years before the U.S. space program was established.
While no major hurricane has ever made landfall at KSC there have been several close calls.
In 2004, Hurricane Jeanne came close but ultimately made landfall in Stuart, Florida, as a Category 3. In 1979, Hurricane David came ashore in West Palm Beach as a Category 2.
However, KSC facilities, including the Vehicle Assembly Building have suffered damages from hurricane-force winds in recent years.
During Hurricane Matthew in 2016 the eye of the storm stayed 20 miles off shore, but the Space Center experienced wind gusts up to 136 mph at the launch pads.
Several buildings had roof panels blown off, and beaches eroded near launch pads 39A and B. KSC's Beach House, where astronauts and their families have stayed before launches in the past, sustained water damage when part of its roof blew off.
Ahead of any storm, NASA will close Kennedy Space Center and only a small team of specialists, known as the Ride-out-Team, will remain.
After the storm, those team members will give the go-ahead to the Damage and Assessment and Recovery Team, or DART, to go in and survey the damage.