As the story of Hurricane Harvey continues to be written, we are still learning about new and surprising ways in which those in the storm's path were affected and just how far its reach extended. In the case of the KBRwyle team embedded at NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Harvey's affect was felt deep into space.
From Mission Control to the International Space Station (ISS) and the next generation of deep space telescopes, members of the KBRwyle team at the JSC were instrumental in helping NASA and some of its key personnel, assets, and programs weather the storm.
KBRwyle Senior Vice President, Vernon McDonald, said that both NASA and KBRwyle were ready to handle the challenges of the situation.
Mission Control Center at Johnson Space Center, Houston
"When you live on the Gulf Coast you plan for contingencies like hurricanes and NASA and KBRwyle were well prepared to enact those plans when Harvey hit," said McDonald.
One of the more high profile effects of Harvey was that it caused last minute changes to the scheduled return of two NASA astronauts from the ISS. KBRwyle's Human Health and Performance Contract team is part of the overall team that meets the astronauts upon landing and immediately begins providing medical assistance and health monitoring. Instead of returning to Houston through Scotland, per the original plan, the ISS crew had to be rerouted via Cologne, Germany. McDonald said this "took a lot of planning and rapid response by both our team in Houston and our team supporting the European Astronaut Center in Cologne."
In addition to the astronauts making their return, KBR helped support the astronauts still on the ISS who rely heavily on Mission Control for their daily existence. It was essential that Mission Control maintain normal operations during the storm without interruption to power and communications. The ISS has been in continuous operation 24/7 for 17 years and KBRwyle has been supporting the crew for the entire time.
Human Health and Performance team members monitor astronauts on the ISS
Among the services KBRwyle provides is medical support to the crew and keeping critical equipment related to health, exercise, and monitoring of station environment functioning properly. In addition, the ISS operates on a very detailed, down to the minute schedule to keep everything running safely and smoothly. KBR's "BME console" supports that schedule, ensuring it is accurate, up to date, and being closely followed.
McDonald says that lessons learned from Hurricane Ike as well as advancing technology allowed the KBRwyle team to perform their support functions remotely which allows for seamless operations continuity and is safer for employees.
Some support functions, however had to be performed on site. The James Webb Space Telescope (Webb) at the JSC is the next generation of telescope designed to study the origins of the universe. It is currently undergoing testing at the JSC and resides in a seven story vacuum chamber which simulates the space-like conditions of pressure and temperature.
A core group of KBRwyle employees remained on site at the JSC working 12 hour shifts, monitoring the systems and equipment that keeps the chamber functioning to ensure it did not experience rapid change in pressure or temperature which would damage the telescope.
KBRwyle employee Dave Tomlin in front of the James Webb Space Telescope
The work the KBRwyle team did on site to support the Webb, helped to protect about $4 billion dollars' worth of NASA hardware and the sustainment of one of the biggest and most critical tests related to the telescope.
In addition to protecting the telescope was the more important task of keeping the personnel involved safe, said John Byard, a KBRwyle Project Safety Engineer who rode out the storm at the JSC.
"We were in a unique situation and protecting our people was our first priority," Byard said. "It was a critical time during the test and as the rain fall became significantly worse than anticipated we went into protection mode for both our personnel and for the telescope."
Indeed, the KBRwyle team went into protection mode for NASA personnel and some of its most important assets, successfully supporting the agency as it has done over the 50 plus years of their strategic partnership.