Hurricane Harvey has been hammering Houston and Corpus Christi hard, dumping over 49 inches of rain on Texas coastal cities. Although Harvey has been downgraded to a tropical storm and moved more toward Alabama, much of Houston is flooded. The Johnson Space Center is relatively high and dry at 13 feet above sea level at its lowest point, but essential personnel are effectively camping on site due to the high waters.
“We are on an island apparently,” flight director Royce Renfrew, AKA Tungsten Flight, tweeted. “No way out of my area. Abandoned cars all over on the road.”
He said that critical flight controllers were “keeping the lights on” so that they could monitor active missions like the current operations on the International Space Station. At last report, the worst interruption of service due to the storm was the inability to process the International Space Station’s video of Hurricane Harvey. The center remains closed to all but essential personnel.
Valuable space-bound hardware such as the James Webb Space Telescope currently reside at the Johnson Space Center. The James Webb telescope resides in Building 32’s Chamber A, NASA’s largest thermal vacuum chamber, for a 100-day test that simulates deep space conditions. The loss of the James Webb Space Telescope would be catastrophic to NASA’s scientific community, as it cost $8.6 billion to build and has been heralded as the next-generation successor to the iconic Hubble Space Telescope.
Although the National Weather Service calls the record amount of rain that has come out of Harvey “unfathomable”, there have been no reports of any rainwater or flooding bad enough to affect the airtight Chamber A and its valuable contents. European Space Agency astronomer Sarah Kendrew, who has been on site during the hurricane, said that workers were taking every possible precaution, including using mops and buckets to get rid of rainwater in Building 32.
“The telescope is totally fine,” she wrote in an email response to media queries.
The James Webb Space Telescope is slated to launch as early as October 2018 if all goes well and it remains free of the effects of flooding.