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Kennedy Space Center prepares for greater sea-rise problems
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Kennedy Space Center prepares for greater sea-rise problems
by Stefano Coledan
Cape Canaveral FL (UPI) Apr 28, 2023

As sea levels rise, NASA managers and engineers at Kennedy Space Center in Florida are keeping a wary eye on potential damage to critical launch structures and other buildings not far from the Atlantic Ocean.

More than a decade ago, the ocean started to encroach on federally protected beaches, penetrating to within some 2,000 feet of critical infrastructure. Now, with more intense hurricanes starting to hit, the work becomes even more crucial.

Historic Launch Pads 39A and 39B, which are close to the water, are vital for NASA and commercial partner SpaceX to continue sending astronauts to the International Space Station and soon to the moon.

Protecting those structures is a high priority for the space agency, and repair and maintenance work are paramount to ensure continued launches, Calvin Williams, associate administrator for NASA's Office of Strategic Infrastructure, said in an interview.

"We have done a lot of reconstruction work to stabilize the coastline and those protective dunes," Williams said.

NASA estimated that by 2019, it had spent $100 million fixing storm damage and rebuilding sand dunes to protect the launch pads.

"It is all at the top of the list and something NASA will have to redo every five years. We want to make sure we are doing all that's necessary to ensure we have launch facilities and research facilities to continue our NASA mission," Williams said.

Part of the infrastructure refurbishment involved upgrading the coastal road and railway, weakened by the increasingly higher winds and waves from hurricanes of unprecedented strength.

Ocean and launch installations aside, losing portions of the nearby Indian River shoreline could have detrimental effects on species such as the gopher tortoises and the Southeastern beach mouse, said NASA's Don Dankert, the environmental planning lead at Kennedy Space Center.

The space center's role is as essential for the U.S. space program as much as the shorelines are vital to Florida's wildlife. The federal property includes pristine beaches on which sea turtles come to lay eggs - undisturbed and protected from human interaction.

Dankert stressed the importance of preserving the dunes "because that will help us protect these and other species."

Rebuilding dunes will play an important secondary role by preventing launch pad illumination near the beach from interfering with the nesting and hatching of sea turtles, so they can find their way to and from the ocean.

"The newly hatched sea turtles are disoriented by artificial light," he said. "We want to encourage them to head toward the sea."

Earlier this month, NASA announced a plan to transplant mangrove seedlings - a natural, efficient barrier to protect against flooding at the space center.

Preserving the area around Launch Pad 39A is crucial for SpaceX founder Elon Musk, who leased the pad from NASA in 2014. Besides using the tower to support a variety of satellite launches, SpaceX assisted in resuming astronaut launches from U.S. soil to live on the International Space Station.

In the years before that, NASA had to rely on Russian spacecraft to transport American astronauts to the space station.

But SpaceX has bigger plans for Launch Pad 39A. Should everything go as Musk envisions with his gigantic Starship, the company will switch operations from west Texas to that launch pad, making it home base for moon missions.

A 450-foot-high tower under construction will rival that of the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building. Moreover, the company recently opened a manufacturing plant at the space center.

With Starship launches, static and dynamic load effects, as well as structural concerns, will produce unprecedented vibrations, which could cause environmental repercussions.

Last week in Texas, a Starship test flight exploded after launch, raining debris and brown grime over a wide area and shaking nearby homes.

Kennedy Space Center infrastructure is about a quarter-mile from the "actual beach," Dankert said. Since the restoration that fixed the large dune erosion, there has been no significant damage, "direct or otherwise."

Remaining concerns are the increasingly record-high tides and unprecedented hurricane-force winds which, in the case of Hurricane Nicole last year, relentlessly hammered the Florida coast and inland areas for several days, with devastating consequences.

Source: United Press International

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