Johnson Space Center closed through Labor Day

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LANCASTER, Calif. — NASA’s Johnson Space Center will remain closed to all but essential personnel until Sept. 5 as the center, and the greater Houston area, recovers from Tropical Storm Harvey.

JSC had been closed since the storm’s arrival over the weekend because of flooding that made travel in the area difficult, if not impossible. NASA had planned to evaluate the center’s status on a day-by-day basis, but late Aug. 29 announced the center would remain closed through the Labor Day holiday weekend.

“Our primary concern is the safety of our employees and all our fellow Houstonians,” Ellen Ochoa, director of JSC, said in a statement announcing the closure. “We’re taking these measures to ensure the members of our team and their families can take care of themselves and their neighbors.”

Initial reports indicate that the center itself has been spared the worst from Harvey, whose heavy rains caused flooding through much of the Houston area. As of the afternoon of Aug. 29, JSC reported 108.3 centimeters of rain had fallen during the storm, with other locations in Houston and southeastern Texas reporting even more as the storm slowly drifted to the east.

The mission control center for the International Space Station at JSC remained operational through the storm, with controllers staying at the center over the weekend during the worst of the rains. NASA cancelled Aug. 29 a media event with ISS astronaut Peggy Whitson originally scheduled for Aug. 30, saying that staff were unavailable to handle the event because of the storm.

In the statement, NASA said it expected mission control to remain in operation through the weekend. The next major station activity is Sept. 2, when a Soyuz spacecraft carrying Whitson, Jack Fischer and Fyodor Yurchikhin leaves the station and lands in Kazakhstan.

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, currently in a thermal vacuum chamber at the center undergoing tests, has not been affected by the storm. “The system is holding up,” Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science, said of the telescope at a National Academies committee meeting Aug. 28. He added some testing work was on hold because of the center’s closure.

More details about the extent of any damage JSC did suffer from Harvey should become clear in the coming days. The center has asked facility managers to report to the center on the morning of Aug. 30 for a safety briefing and to begin an assessment of the center.

Many other space facilities and offices in the Houston area remain closed because of the storm. Space Center Houston, the JSC visitor’s center, will remain closed through at least Sept. 1, it posted on its website. The Lunar and Planetary Institute, whose offices are near JSC, announced Aug. 29 that it also be closed until at least Sept. 5.

Some were able to find a bit of humor in the events. Royce Renfrew, a NASA flight director who has been working at mission control during the storm, posted to Twitter Aug. 29 an image of a modified version of the Flight Operations patch, labeled “Hurricane Harvey Ops Team.” The patch included a Latin motto, “Ad astra per aqua,” or, “To the stars through water.”