NASA plans to shield two moon-bound spacecraft within a protective cover ahead of schedule as part of preparations for Hurricane Irene's potential brush with the Space Coast late this week.
The GRAIL mission's twin spacecraft, targeted for launch Sept. 8 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, are expected to be encapsulated in a payload fairing Tuesday instead of Thursday at Launch Complex 17B.
Based on current forecasts, the United Launch Alliance Delta II Heavy rocket is expected to remain in place inside its vertical processing tower through the storm event.
Kennedy Space Center today officially entered "Hurricane Condition IV," its preliminary level of storm preparations that is triggered when sustained winds of at least 58 mph are forecasted to arrive with 72 hours.
"The latest forecast does have the storm track moving more east of Kennedy, but strengthening into a Category 3 hurricane," said Allard Beutel, a KSC spokesman.
Early preparations include keeping personnel informed, picking up any loose debris that could cause damage and identifying teams that would stay on site through the storm or inspect damage afterward.
The alert level would rise to Condition III on Tuesday if the strong winds remain forecasted within 48 hours.