This week, NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) — home of the space agency’s Mission Control — became an island in a sea of floodwater. After staggering amounts of damage in Houston, today Tropical Storm Harvey made landfall once again, bringing torrential downpours to areas of Southeast Texas and Louisiana. Somehow, against difficult odds and a lot of rain, the heart of the space community is still beating, thanks to some seriously dedicated employees.
For all intents and purposes, JSC is closed to all except essential personnel through Labour Day on September 4. Kelly O. Humphries, News Chief at JSC, told Gizmodo in an email that their “current work focuses on supporting critical operations, riding out the storm and addressing minor issues such as fixing leaks and keeping drains open, as they arise”. While the team hasn’t had the chance to conduct a thorough search of all its hardware, Humphries confirmed that the $US8.6 billion ($10.9 billion) James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), NASA’s successor to Hubble which was only recently transferred to JSC, is “in good shape”.
Apparently, a number of employees stayed inside Mission Control to ride out the storm. According to reporting from Ars Technica, mission control has remained in communication with ISS astronauts, recently assisting with an orbital adjustment manoeuvre. In turn, astronauts have been sending back photos of Harvey from space.
“Some team members stayed at JSC overnight,” Humphries said. “The center provided cots as well as Meals Ready to Eat (MREs). Employees were made aware before they came on shift that they might need to remain, so they came prepared as well.”
From the looks of social media, these folks did an incredible job keeping JSC alive and thriving as the floodwaters rose. NASA Flight Director Royce Refrew even tweeted a mission badge for NASA’s “Hurricane Harvey Ops Team” that reads, “Ad astra per aqua,” which means, “To the stars through water.”
— Zebulon Scoville (@Explorer_Flight) August 25, 2017
— Royce Renfrew (@Tungsten_Flight) August 29, 2017
Managed to make it in to relieve one of the other flight directors. MCC kind of surreal with off duty folks crashed in the B&WFCR. pic.twitter.com/3U43QMKxbe
— Royce Renfrew (@Tungsten_Flight) August 28, 2017
Some students have been sending the folks in Mission Control letters of support. This one apparently came from a Year 4 student in Naperville, Illinois:
— Zebulon Scoville (@Explorer_Flight) August 29, 2017
So while Mission Control might be down for now, it’s certainly not out. JSC expects to open back up after Labour Day and will conduct a thorough inventory of any damage then. Space stops for no storm.