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How NASA Kept the ISS Flying While Harvey Hit Mission Control

Talking with family members about the floods in Houston, the phrase came up: "Houston, we have a problem." I started to wonder what was going on at the Johnson Space Center. How did they operate during the hurricane? They can't shut down, because they literally run the ISS from there. Flight controllers send somewhere around 50,000 commends to the space station every month, many of them to keep it on course. They could have bugged out to an alternate location, but that location -Round Rock, Texas- was just as liable to be affected by Hurricane Harvey. So they stayed.   

But the team also knew they had to prepare. “Where you don’t want to find yourself is just a single flight controller in any position who can’t leave because there’s no one to replace them,” says Scoville. So the flight controllers were told to come into work early and to make sure they had a way to both enter and leave the center safely. Many showed up Friday night with “big, monstrous climbing backpacks,” says Scoville. Meanwhile, cots were set up in a nearby room and in a building that serves as an astronaut quarantine facility, where astronauts quarantine before launch to avoid getting sick in space. “We have training rooms that are a mere copy of the flight control room,” says Scoville. “They have the same consoles and same screens, but we turned off the lights and put some cots in there. It was interesting to see these rooms usually lit up with all these screens blacked out for people to sleep.”

Read an account of running NASA's flight operations during a hurricane at The Verge.


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