This aerial view looks north with rail road in foreground, and former space shuttle launch pad 39A at the top left and launch pad 39B at the top right.
Cape Canaveral, FL (Florida Today) -- NASA longs to explore liquid planets but will first have to fend off our own watery world.
That could take upwards of $45 million.
the ocean closes in on two historic launch pads, Kennedy Space Center
officials have yet to hear how much they'll see of the $15 million
Congress just allocated for NASA as part of the $51 billion Hurricane
Sandy relief bill.
hopes for at least $4 million to fix 1.2 miles of eroding dunes that
stand between the Atlantic Ocean and the two former space shuttle launch
pads - 39A and 39B.
Those pads hold the future of human spaceflight, but an ever-encroaching ocean imperils their future.
we have a tropical storm and we have our dune breached, there could be
impacts to the pad," said John Shaffer, a physical scientist at KSC. "If
we don't do something now, the infrastructure is going to be
Fox News, the New York Post
and the blogosphere blasted the $4 million for NASA beach repairs that
President Barack Obama included in his request to Congress for Hurricane
Sandy relief. After all, the storm's center passed far off Florida,
they noted, some 220 miles off Cape Canaveral.
Last month, "Fox & Friends" aired a graphic titled "Sandy Scam," listing the $4 million for KSC among six spending items.
though, was the fact that Sandy still sent pounding waves ashore on the
Space Coast, causing erosion - in some spots severe - along Brevard
County's 72-mile shoreline. Brevard County estimated $25 million in
damages to its beach areas.
the criticism that Obama's request was "pork," Congress increased the
amount of NASA emergency aid to $15 million. And KSC officials defended
their planned dune repair as only a Band-Aid fix for a much larger
erosion problem that's crept inland for years.
is just to restore our primary dune and get some of our railroad track
out of the way," Shaffer said. "We get impacted by high tides now."
plans to remove and possibly move back now-unusable railroad tracks
that once hauled liquid hydrogen fuel to the space shuttle. The tracks,
built in the 1960s, now teeter on the dune's edge.
Since 1943, the ocean has thinned KSC's beach width by up to 66 yards
between the pads, NASA officials say. Sandy's October surprise put an
exclamation point on that damage.
almost two miles of beach, dunes retreated seven feet landward. The
ocean undercut the railroad track along a 218-yard stretch near Pad 39A,
where waves topped the tracks, flooding a nearby lagoon and partially
washing away some of the railway base.
the dune repair, NASA would mine new sand from inland, possibly
Canaveral Air Force Station, but specific sources have yet to be
identified. Trucks would haul the sand to the dune. The project would
include a drift fence to capture windblown sand and native plants to
secure the dune.
officials say the dune project would restore habitat for the threatened
southeastern beach mouse and endangered sea turtles. By blocking launch
pad lighting, the new dune also would reduce the number of sea turtle
hatchlings that get disoriented by the lights and crawl toward the pads
instead of the sea.
As the ocean laps ever closer, the pads lie in limbo, awaiting NASA's next milestones.
space agency is preparing Pad 39B for launches of crews on deep space
missions aboard its heavy-lift Space Launch System rocket and Orion
first, unmanned test launch of the heavy lift rocket won't happen until
late 2017, followed by a first crewed flight in 2021.
NASA mothballed Pad 39A after the shuttle program ended but has offered it up to any interested commercial takers.
None has stepped forward so far.
recently declined Florida's initial request for 150 acres well north of
the existing pads, where the state hopes to build a new launch pad for
SpaceX. Negotiations continue.
wants to keep the company from locating its future commercial launch
operations in Texas, Georgia or Puerto Rico. SpaceX believes a pad
operated outside federal jurisdiction would offer more flexibility on
launches and reduced costs.
that debate continues, KSC will hash out a long-term plan for
protecting the old shuttle pads, which also were the launch sites of the
Apollo moon missions. The plan will include options for beach repair
and details about potential environmental impacts. "We're expecting our
environmental assessment complete and ready to circulate for public
comment within the next 45 to 60 days," said Don Dankert, a biological
scientist at KSC.
Beyond some patchwork to dunes, the space center has never conducted a full-scale sand-pumping beach renourishment project.
critically eroded dunes that KSC had repaired after storms between 2004
and 2010 thinned the shoreline. Then in 2010, KSC built a 15-foot high,
725-foot long secondary dune along the worst spot between the two
shuttle pads as proof a new dune could help protect launch
infrastructure. After Sandy, that was the only stretch of dune left
officials expect $11 million - almost three-quarters of the Sandy relief
allocated to the agency - will go to beach repairs at Wallops Flight
Facility on Wallops Island, Va.
year, an Illinois dredging company pumped 3.2 million cubic yards of
sand on beaches at Wallops for a $45 million project to protect over $1
billion in federal and state assets there.
long-term beach repair plan for KSC could prove just as costly and
involve roughly four miles of coastline from Playalinda Beach to south
of Pad 39A. "Ours would be similar to that if we did a pump system like
they did," Shaffer said.
anticipates having to do repeat sand pumping every three to seven
years, depending on need. Engineers designed similar beach projects from
Cape Canaveral to Melbourne Beach to require sand-pumping about every
six years. KSC would likely face a similar cycle.
could mine sand from the same shoals those projects tap about five
miles off Cape Canaveral. Federal funding must flow first, before a new
buffer for the old launch pads can bolster NASA's next big blast-offs.
But as every high tide reminds, the ocean's clockwork ticks with its own countdown of sorts.
"We're just fighting Mother Nature," Shaffer said.