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Science & Space

Frances tears panels from NASA shuttle hangar

The Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center before sustaining hurricane damage.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Space Exploration
Air and Space Accidents
Kennedy Space Center

(CNN) -- NASA managers worried Monday about the prospect of Hurricane Ivan after Hurricane Frances ripped about 1,000 4-by-10-foot aluminum panels off one side of its massive Vehicle Assembly Building, Kennedy Space Center director Jim Kennedy said.

Kennedy said center staff will concentrate on protecting the 40-story, 560-foot building from further damage.

"I don't see how we could do too much to repair those openings in a few days' time," he said.

Kennedy said the checkerboard-patterned damage was the worst storm damage in the center's history -- like 40,000 square feet of new windows opened from the 100-foot level to the 350-foot level.

Roof damage, he said, was unknown.

Hurricane Charley caused $700,000 in damage three weeks ago, but "this one is going to be significantly more than that," Kennedy said.

The center registered top sustained winds above 70 mph and gusts up to 94 mph. But nearby Cape Canaveral registered gusts as high as 124 mph.

The VAB, built in 1965 to assemble the Apollo moon program's gigantic Saturn V rockets, is now used to attach the shuttle's boosters. Kennedy said two external tanks were inside the building during the storm.

"They are somewhat enclosed, and we think they are protected from the elements," he said.

The space center had also moved cars and trucks into the building to ride out the storm.

Other center facilities fared better. Two of the three Orbiter Processing Facilities had full power Monday afternoon with only a little mopping up of water needed, Kennedy said. OPF 3 -- the orbiter Discovery's hangar -- has no power, he said.

The Space Station Processing Facility also came through the storm with few problems, and has full power.

The shuttle program's tile manufacturing facility, however, suffered "extensive water damage" throughout and could be a "huge problem," Kennedy said. NASA managers are looking for options, and could move the work to a facility in Palmdale, Calif.

Inspectors have not yet had a look at launch pads, he said.

Kennedy said it is too early to figure how the damage might affect the shuttle program's plans to return to flight for the first time since Columbia's fatal accident on February 1, 2003, but more would be known after a 500-person team currently on site finishes its work.

"I don't consider this to be a disaster by any stretch of the imagination," he said. "How big the bump in the road it is, is to be determined. It's a bump in the road for sure."

Current plans call for a shuttle launch in March or April 2005.

The VAB was the tallest building in Florida until 1974.

CNN reporter Miles O'Brien and producer Dave Santucci contributed to this report.

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