NASA bracing for first hurricane since shuttles retired

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — NASA is bracing for its first hurricane without space shuttles to worry about. Now it’s SpaceX and Boeing fretting about hurricane-force wind and equally devastating storm surges.

Before the shuttle fleet’s retirement in 2011, rollbacks from the launch pads were commonplace during hurricane season at Kennedy Space Center. Now both pads are empty, at least for the time being.

NASA is modifying Launch Complex 39B for its still-in-development Space Launch System mega-rockets intended for outer-space travel. SpaceX is leasing the other pad, 39A, from where Apollo astronauts departed for the moon and multiple shuttle flights began.

SpaceX was counting on this historic pad to get its rockets flying again, possibly in November, once modifications were complete. The SpaceX pad at neighboring Cape Canaveral Air Force Station was damaged Sept. 1 when a Falcon rocket exploded during prelaunch testing.

Boeing, meanwhile, is using a former shuttle hangar to build capsules to fly future space station crews as early as 2018. The building can withstand 105 mph wind — no more.

SpaceX is also in the race to get Americans launched into space again from U.S. soil, possibly in the next year.

NASA isn’t out of the space game, though, by a long shot.

The space agency is developing a new capsule called Orion for sending astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit; it has its sights set on Mars in the 2030s. The spacecraft was covered in a Kennedy building built to withstand sustained wind of 114 mph and gusts of 125 mph.

A much-advanced, next-generation GOES weather satellite, meanwhile, was inside an even stronger building in nearby Titusville, capable of tolerating 130-mph wind, NASA spokesman George Diller said Thursday. The satellite is supposed to launch on an Atlas V rocket on Nov. 4, although that date may now be in jeopardy because of Matthew.

This “game-changer” of a satellite, as weather officials call it, will enhance meteorologists’ ability to monitor hurricanes and climate to boot.

Kennedy was closed Thursday and Friday, with a 116-person ride-out crew on duty to help keep things safe. Its visitor complex — home to space shuttle Atlantis in retirement — also was shut down.

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