How NASA is preparing for Irma at Florida Kennedy Space Center

As Hurricane Irma barrels toward Florida, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center is preparing its facilities to withstand the monster storm. Located at Cape Canaveral on Florida’s east coast, KSC is NASA’s biggest spaceport, supporting all of the agency’s past human spaceflight missions and many commercial satellite launches. It’s close to the middle of Irma’s projected path and is expected to experience major high-speed winds this weekend.

Fortunately, KSC is built to handle hurricanes. The large Vertical Assembly Building, once used to assemble the Space Shuttles prior to launch, is able to withstand winds of 125 miles per hour. And after KSC was hit by Hurricane Andrew in 1992, all new buildings constructed were built to withstand winds between 130 and 135 miles per hour. Irma is now a Category 4 storm, with 150 mph winds, but it’s expected to downgrade by the time it reaches Cape Canaveral.

To get ready for the storm, KSC uses an alert scale designed for the US armed forces called HURCON. Yesterday — 48 hours before Irma’s arrival — the center was at HURCON III, the preparation phase. NASA and the various aerospace companies that lease buildings at KSC, such as SpaceX and Boeing, were at work protecting all of their hardware — such as covering their computers with plastic to protect them from flooding. “Each organization has specific checklists they need to go through,” Al Feinberg, a NASA communications officer at KSC, tells The Verge.

Meanwhile, many high-value assets have been parked inside the Vertical Assembly Building, such as the Universal Coolant Transporter System — a piece of equipment once used to cool down the Space Shuttle when it returned to Earth — and portions of the Mobile Launch Platform — a moveable pad that will support launches of NASA’s next big rocket, the Space Launch System. Construction sites and materials at the other launchpads have been secured as well, Feinberg says.

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