NASA Centers Shaken by Rare East Coast Earthquake

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NASA headquarters in Washington was briefly evacuated Aug. 23 following a 5.8-magnitude earthquake that struck near Mineral, Va. NASA field centers in Maryland and southeastern Virginia also felt the effects of the biggest quake to strike the region in more than 100 years.

“Wow! An earthquake at NASA HQ in DC, and I thought technology was exciting …” NASA Chief Technologist Bobby Braun tweeted.

Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., did not evacuate. However, Goddard did declare a “Code Red” at about 3 p.m. EDT, closing the center to nonessential personnel.

Officials then did a thorough assessment of Goddard’s buildings, making sure none sustained serious damage. That was finished by about 4 a.m. the next day, officials said, and the center resumed normal operations.

The quake does not appear to have caused any lasting damage to NASA’s centers, assets or infrastructure, officials said. The main impact may have been shock or surprise. Goddard personnel, for example, are trained to deal with blizzards and hurricanes — typical East Coast scenarios.

“I can tell you, we don’t exercise often to prepare for an earthquake,” Ray Rubilotta, deputy director for management operations at Goddard, said. But that will probably change. “Even if there’s not another big quake for 100 years, we’ll definitely have an earthquake checklist now,” Rubilotta said.