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NASA Temporarily Transfers Space Station Control to Russia

23 September 2005

Space agency evacuates Johnson Space Center in Houston ahead of Hurricane Rita

By Cheryl Pellerin
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington – NASA closed Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas, September 21 because of the threat posed to the area by Hurricane Rita and transferred primary flight control of the International Space Station to the Russian Mission Control Center in Korolev, outside Moscow.

JSC is home to NASA astronauts and is responsible for their training. Johnson's Mission Control Center directs all space shuttle missions and manages all activity onboard the International Space Station.

JSC has 15,000 government and contractor workers.

According to a September 22 NASA press release, a small emergency crew will remain onsite during the storm, which is expected to strike the Texas-Louisiana coasts of the Gulf of Mexico early September 24.

Because of Rita's strength, with winds measured as high as 233 kilometers per hour, most of the original 82-member emergency crew -- which included operations, maintenance, security and medical personnel -- has now evacuated.

JSC employees have been working for the past few days to protect important documents and equipment at the center. NASA aircraft are being moved to El Paso, Texas, as part of the center's hurricane preparations.

The transfer of space station control to Russia, said NASA spokesperson Melissa Mathews, is a routine procedure, last instituted because of a hurricane in October 2002, when Hurricane Lili postponed the launch of the space shuttle Atlantis.

“We [transfer control to Russia] fairly regularly in the course of normal operations,” Mathews said.

“During spacewalks, for example, if it’s a ‘Russian spacewalk’ on Russian parts of the spacecraft, then the Russian Mission Control is in charge. If it’s a U.S. spacewalk, we’re in charge,” she said. “It’s a pretty regular occurrence.”

A group of about a dozen NASA flight controllers, called the Houston Support Group, is permanently stationed in Russia to work with the Russian flight controllers on the space station program.

Advisory groups of NASA flight controllers will provide operations assistance from remote locations around the country, Mathews said, including temporary facilities in Texas, the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, and NASA headquarters in Washington.

All space station systems are operating normally, and the crew has been informed of the plans for JSC's closure.

Two other NASA facilities that were damaged during Hurricane Katrina, which came ashore August 29 in Louisiana, are bracing for possible effects from Hurricane Rita.

The Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans has closed and an emergency crew of about 40 is in place with supplies for several days. Most military personnel who were staging operations out of Michoud have evacuated.

NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, where space shuttle engines are tested, is preparing for heavy rain and wind due to Hurricane Rita.

All employees at Stennis and Michoud have been accounted for following Katrina.

The centers will reopen when the storm threat has passed.

Updates and images of Hurricane Rita and additional information on hurricanes are available on NASA’s Web page.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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