NASA’s Florida sites damaged during Irma

September 19, 2017 GMT

Florida’s Spacecoast is among many areas cleaning up after Hurricane Irma. Despite hurricane force winds, several inches of rain and possible tornadoes, the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) and the Kennedy Space Center Visitor complex (KSCVC) have escaped major damage but remained closed last week.

Following the storm, a 250-member damage assessment team fanned out on the ground and from the air across KSC’s more than 200 square miles. Early assessments showed about 40 percent of buildings received some damage, mostly to siding and roofing as well as some water intrusion. Shoreline erosion also continues to be a concern around Launch Complex 39, where the former Apollo and Shuttle launch sites are now used by SpaceX.

Costs are expected to be less than that of Hurricane Matthew’s $50 million in damage to the space center. Matthew went on to cause more than $10 billion in damage total, including record flooding in North Carolina’s southernmost counties.

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Irma’s impact varied widely across the region.

Weather towers recorded winds reaching 67 to 94 mph at 54 feet above sea level and 90 to 116 mph measured at 458 feet. Three possible tornadoes across KSC and CCAFS were awaiting confirmation from the NWS.

The weather station at the Shuttle Landing Facility measured 7.69 inches of rain on Sept. 10. 35 miles south, a record 10.23 inches of rainfall was measured at the Melbourne NWS office. Areas in between received less than an inch.

The pier at Titusville’s Space View Park, which extends into the Indian River, was destroyed. This popular viewing point during the shuttle program had seen a resurgence with SpaceX’s recent move to Launch Complex 39.

The visitor complex reopened on Friday in a limited capacity. The area was under under boil water orders as water main repairs continued. Food options were limited, and bus tours of KSC were suspended through the weekend. Visitors that day were offered free parking and bottled water along with a free gift according to Rebecca Shireman, KSCVC’s Communication Director.

While the artifacts and exhibits escaped without damage, one bit of space history was lost. The “moon tree,” a sycamore grown from seeds carried aboard Apollo 14, had survived many storms since its planting in 1976 as a part of bicentennial celebrations.

Irma’s winds split the tree, and even the arborist summoned to help was unable to save it. It was removed late last week from the visitor center courtyard.

Other moon trees from the same batch of seeds will love on, including trees on the grounds of the White House and Independence Hall and even in here in North Carolina at the Forest Discovery Center and Botanical Gardens in Asheville. So-called “half-moon trees,” made from shoots taken from “full-moon trees,” were planted in Pullen Park and at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science’s Prairie Ridge Ecostation in Raleigh.

Tony Rice is a volunteer in the NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador program and software engineer at Cisco Systems. You can follow him on Twitter at @rtphokie.