NASA’s Florida spaceport stood all but empty Monday, with only an emergency crew watching over space shuttles and planetary probes while winds from Hurricane Wilma howled outside.
The space agency closed its Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral as Hurricane Wilma struck southwest Florida. Most of NASA’s 13,000 spaceport workers were advised to stay home.
By midday Monday, sustained winds were blowing at about 57 miles per hour (91 kilometers per hours) with heavy rain and stronger winds expected later, space center officials said.
“It’s a very rainy day here,” said NASA’s George Diller, a Kennedy Space Center spokesperson, in a telephone interview. “We can’t see that it’s gotten into anything yet.”
A tornado, one of several spawned by Hurricane Wilma, touched down near the center, but did not appear to damage the spaceport.
“Fortunately it’s not moving toward any of our facilities,” Diller said of the twister.
A small crew watched over NASA’s three space shuttles — Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour — which sat in their hangars with their payload doors closed to protect against leaks, officials said.
“There are no leaks in the hangars and the doors are sandbagged,” Diller said, adding that NASA’s New Horizons Pluto probe is safely stowed in its transportation canister. “The Pluto spacecraft is doing fine.”
Hurricane Wilma is the latest storm to force the closure of a NASA facility.
In September, NASA evacuated its Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas as Hurricane Rita approached the western Gulf Coast. NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility, in New Orleans, Louisiana, and Stennis Space Center in Mississippi also hunkered down during that storm.
Michoud, which builds the external tanks for NASA’s space shuttles, and Stennis were also damaged in late August by Hurricane Katrina, which decimated the city of New Orleans and the Mississippi coast.
Kennedy Space Center officials said they expect the spaceport to reopen Tuesday after Hurricane Wilma has passed.