Still repairing from Matthew, Kennedy Space Center preps for Hurricane Irma

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist
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Images from NASA aerial tour of Hurricane Matthew damage at the Space Center.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Almost a year ago, Hurricane Matthew caused millions of dollars in damage to the Kennedy Space Center. Now America’s spaceport is preparing for another storm: Hurricane Irma.

During Matthew, the eye of the storm stayed about 20 miles off shore, but the Space Center experienced 80 mph winds with gusts up to 136 mph at launch pads and near processing facilities.

NASA closed the center as Matthew approached, and only a small team of 139 specialists, known as the Ride-out-Team, remained. After the storm, those team members gave the go-ahead to the Damage and Assessment and Recovery Team, or DART, to go in and survey the damage.

Several buildings had roof panels blown off, and DART reported beach erosion 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 after part of its roof blew off.

“The first thing you want to do is assess all the damage,” Bob Hall, who led the DART team’s assessment after Matthew, said. “Then, we go safe that damage, then we figure how we can get everybody back to work.”

A month shy of the one-year mark, some repairs are still ongoing, while others have been completed, Kennedy Space Center Operations Public Affairs Officer Brittany Mostert said in an email to News 6.

“Numerous major repair projects that required advance design and procurement work are still in progress and in various stages of completion,” Mostert said.

The latest National Hurricane Center projections Wednesday afternoon show that Irma could decrease to a Category 3 storm by Monday and veer off after making landfall in south Florida, sparing Brevard County a direct hit.

But forecasters said it’s still too early to tell.

On Wednesday, Kennedy Space Center enacted a HURCON IV declaration by the Emergency Operation Center, meaning center managers are preparing facilities and their employees for 58 mph winds within 72 hours.

“Since safety is paramount at KSC, personnel shall take the necessary precautions to secure or service flight hardware, provide fire protection and security, repair and fuel generators required during the storm, or perform other hurricane response activity, but not to an extent that jeopardizes personnel safety,” Mostert said.

Under a HURCON declaration all normal operations stop to prepare for the storm, according to NASA.

The 2017 hurricane season also affected NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, which shut down for Hurricane Harvey. Only a skeleton staff remained to continue assisting the International Space Station crew.

JSC was scheduled to reopen Tuesday.

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