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Shuttle space centre surveys hurricane damage

发布时间:2019-03-02 12:07:00来源:未知点击:

By Jeff Hecht All three remaining space shuttles weathered Hurricane Frances without apparent damage, after the cyclone weakened before hitting the Florida coast south of Cape Canaveral. But the massive Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) took heavy damage. About 1000 of its exterior panels – each measuring 1.2 by 3 metres – were ripped off the south and east sides. This is the worst damage experienced by the Kennedy Space Center since its establishment in the 1960s, director Jim Kennedy told reporters in a hastily called teleconference on Monday. “I was significantly worried about the future of human space flight” last week when forecasters warned that Frances could hit Cape Canaveral as an intense Category 4 storm, Kennedy said. He felt very fortunate when the storm weakened and caused much less damage than originally feared. “I don’t consider this to be a disaster,” he said, but “it’s a bump in the road for sure.” How long it will delay the next shuttle launch has yet to be determined. This will also depend on the course of Hurricane Ivan, currently a Category 3 storm and projected to hit Florida in a few days. Built in the 1960s for the Apollo program, the VAB is now used to assemble shuttles with their external tanks and solid rocket boosters. At 160 m tall, 218 m long, and 158 m wide, it is also one of the world’s largest buildings. The VAB is built of steel and concrete and is designed to withstand winds of up to 125 miles per hour (200 kph). This is much higher than the peak of 94 miles per hour (150 kph) and maximum sustained winds of barely hurricane force that Hurricane Frances inflicted upon the space centre. But after 40 years in the salty air, the VAB’s insulated aluminium outer panels proved far more vulnerable. NASA has yet to assess the condition of its roof. The hurricane stripped off about 4% of the metal siding, leaving about 4000 square metres exposed to the elements in a chequered pattern, mostly from 30 to 120 metres above the ground. But the gaping holes worry Kennedy because specialists say they will take time to fix – and Hurricane Ivan may be as little as five days away. “We didn’t have much critical flight hardware” in the VAB, Kennedy said, only two external tanks and the aft skirts for a pair of solid rocket boosters. The shuttles rode out the storm in the three bays of the steel and concrete Orbiter Processing Facility. Some water leaked under the doors but the shuttles had been raised off the ground and stayed dry. To prevent equipment-damaging power surges, NASA shut down power to most facilities before evacuating the space centre. By Monday afternoon it had restored power to two shuttle processing bays. However, telephone service was out and centre’s website was down. NASA’s Shuttle Tile Facility was not so lucky. “We believe the roof is partly gone,” causing extensive water damage, Kennedy said. Tile assembly is crucial for return-to-flight, so that operation may have to be shifted to Palmdale, California, where it was located before being moved to Cape Canaveral. More time is needed to assess the damage and its impact on shuttle schedules, Kennedy stressed. At the time of the press conference,