Image: Miquate looks over a fallen rocket.
Joshua Rodas  /  Getty Images
NASA aerospace technologist William Miquate looks over a fallen rocket that was toppled by Hurricane Frances over the weekend.
updated 9/9/2004 4:01:16 PM ET 2004-09-09T20:01:16

Still picking up the pieces after Hurricane Frances, NASA braced on Thursday for the even more menacing Ivan, hurriedly moving mangled strips of aluminum siding and exposed equipment into the hangar that once housed the wreckage of space shuttle Columbia.

Forecasters say Ivan could veer close to Cape Canaveral early next week.

Last weekend, Frances peeled 820 aluminum panels off NASA's 52-story Vehicle Assembly Building and sent them flying, smashing car and truck windshields.

On Thursday, the space agency rushed to collect the bent 4-by-16-foot panels for fear they could turn into flying shrapnel again if Hurricane Ivan blows this way. The panels were moved to a Kennedy Space Center hangar 1 1/2 miles farther inland.

Cleanup crews also rushed to gather computers and other equipment in buildings left roofless by Frances and put them in the hangar. Among the critical items going into the structure: any salvageable machinery used to make the thermal tiles and blankets that cover the space shuttles and protect against the heat of re-entry. The tile shop lost a chunk of its roof in what could represent one of the biggest blows to NASA's effort to resume shuttle flights next spring.

NASA officials refuse to speculate on whether they will be able to launch Discovery as planned next March or April, given the hurricane damage to Kennedy Space Center so far, and with more storm fury possibly on the way.

Hurricane Charley last month caused $700,000 worth of damage to Kennedy Space Center. No damage estimate is available yet for Frances.

The space center remains closed to most of its 14,000 employees until Monday, and could stay shut even longer if Ivan hits.

Right after the Columbia catastrophe on Feb. 1, 2003, the charred, twisted remnants of the shuttle were taken from Texas and Louisiana to the huge, sturdy hangar near the shuttle landing strip, where the pieces were laid out on the floor to assist in the accident investigation.

Last September, the pieces were moved out of the hangar to the Apollo-era Vehicle Assembly Building, where shuttles are mounted to their booster rockets and fuel tanks prior to launch.

Although Frances left hundreds of gaping holes in the assembly building, Columbia's remains were dry and safe on the 16th level, said NASA spokesman Mike Rein. The 84,000-plus pieces are stored in a secure room on the westernmost side of the building, which was not defaced by Frances.

"We got lucky there," Rein said.

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