September 15, 2004; updated September 16H
urricane Ivan made landfall early this morning, tearing into the Gulf coast of Alabama with winds clocked at 130 miles per hour. The storm's intensity dropped to tropical storm status this afternoon.
Like many residents of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi, NASA redirected its energies to prepare two installations for the coming storm: Stennis Space Center (SSC) in Mississippi and Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) in New Orleans. Most SSC workers were sent home Tuesday to prepare their own homes for the hurricane, but a number remained on-site to ride out the storm and provide early damage assessment when it passed. SSC preps space shuttle engines before flight; four such engines have been secured and protected.
Like SSC, most employees at Michoud were sent home Monday while a small team remained behind. The facility manufactures and assembles large space-shuttle external fuel tanks. Equipment was moved indoors, buildings sandbagged, and materials loaded onto trucks for transportation out of the area, if necessary. While NASA is concerned about its facilities, paramount to its hurricane readiness is its employees' safety.
"We really saw our readiness for Hurricanes Charley and Frances pay off," says William Readdy, NASA's associate administrator for space operations. "KSC [Kennedy Space Center] was in the path of those two strong storms, and while some of our buildings were damaged, we made sure our workforce was safe and had no injuries."
NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston and KSC in Florida kept close eyes on Ivan's track. The Marshall Space Flight Center, located well inland in Huntsville, Alabama, also has made preparations for gale-force winds, intense rainfall, and possible tornadoes associated with the weakening storm.
Keep tabs on Ivan with our weather coverage, available for magazine subscribers and newsstand buyers: Southeastern U.S. radar Southeastern U.S. satellite Carribean Sea satellite image, showing Hurricane Jeanne