Hurricane Irene Spares NASA’s East Coast Centers

by

NASA facilities along the U.S. East Coast were mopping up Aug. 29 in the wake of a weekend pounding by Hurricane Irene.

NASA facilities in Maryland, Virginia and Washington were on alert for Irene’s arrival heading into the weekend. The storm made landfall in North Carolina as a Category 1 hurricane, then weakened to a tropical storm as it made its way north along the coast.

NASA’s Washington headquarters was open for business Aug. 29, with employees able to take leave as required to attend to any Irene-related issues, officials said. Other centers experienced some flooding or damage from the powerful storm.

At the space agency’s Wallops Flight Facility, a rocket and science balloon launching site on Wallops Island, Va., power and communications were lost during the storm but have since been recovered, according to NASA spokesman Ed Campion with the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., which oversees Wallops. On Aug. 26, a ride-out crew at Wallops was anticipating a storm surge of up 0.6 meters at the facility.

“At WFF power and communications have been restored,” Campion said in an email. “Areas of the south end of the island will be restricted until the buildings get cleaned out and some roads are cleared.”

Campion said repair crews were fixing a roof leak in one of the buildings at the Goddard center, which also oversees the Hubble Space Telescope program and other science missions. An off-site facility used to manage the Joint Polar Satellite System, a weather satellite program NASA runs jointly with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, still was without power a day after the storm cleared the region, he added.

But in general, both the Wallops and Goddard centers weathered Irene well, officials said.

“Employees at both sites have [the] option of taking unscheduled leave if they have home/family issues that need to be addressed,” Campion said.

Another NASA center, the Langley Research Center near Norfolk, Va., also instituted a “liberal leave” policy for employees affected by Irene. In a status update posted on Twitter, Langley officials said there was minimal damage and debris at the center.

“Wishing all #Irene sufferers smooth clean up and quick power restoration! Many of our workers feel your pain,” Langley officials wrote in a Twitter post.