CASE STUDIES LIFE SCIENCES
Easi’s Emergency Response Saves Priceless Artifacts at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX
On Wednesday September 21, 2005 Hurricane Rita was a rapidly strengthening Category 3 storm with predicted landfall just south of the Houston-Galveston, TX area. Storm preparations had progressed extremely rapidly in the preceeding 24 hours and JSC site employees and Easi scientists we were in the process of final shutdown. By mid-morning the NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) declared an emergency site closure for Noon and local Governments had issued mandatory evacuations beginning at 6pm. In the next 24 hours Hurricane Rita would grow to a Category 5 storm with 175 mph winds and a storm track centered on Galveston Bay, a worst case scenario for the JSC.
The NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) plays a critical role in the United States’ human spacefilght program. Easi is respopnsible for life science and facility operations services, a role that includes responsibility for over of fifty special “deep” freezers (operating at -80C). Carefully stored in those freezers are multitudes of perishable samples dating back to the earliest days of the human space flight program. These samples, collected from astronauts both on the ground and in space, are an irreplaceable raw data set for investigating the effects of short- and long-term space flight on humans. Easi scientists utilize these samples to conduct research examining nutritional uptake and utilization of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients as well as investigating muscle and bone loss and other space flight specific affectations.
In the midst of this emercency, a group of self-selected volunteers, including twelve Easi scientists, was implementing a previously untested Hurricane Plan for safeguarding those fifty freezers and their precious contents. At Noon, just as JSC was closing, the first shipment of 2,000 pounds of dry ice arrived. While observing all appropriate safety requirements such as oxygen monitoring equpiment, the dry ice was unloaded from the truck and transported to the second floor of building 37, where the dry ice was unwrapped, divided, and packed into the freezer so the samples would not be destroyed in the event of a power loss.
By 3pm Wednesday afternoon, Houston was rapidly becoming gridlocked. Evacuees faced average driving speeds of 5 mph, to destinations hundreds of miles away. By 7pm Wednesday evening, Houston was totally gridlocked. By this time, evacuees faced average speeds of 1mph, and 20-40 continuous hours on the road seeking higher ground. The storm track for Hurricane Rita, now a Category 5 storm with 175 mph winds and a storm surge of up to 25 feet was centered directly on JSC, with a forecast for 5-7 feet of water inside of Building 37. Nontheless, a small core of Easi personnel remained at JSC for a 7pm Wednesday evening delivery of yet another 1,000 pounds of dry ice to be moved, divided and packed into the freezers.
Thankfully, the storm weakened and tracked just east and north of Houston and JSC sustained only minor wind damage and the sampls were undamaged. However, the sense of committement demonstrated by Easi personnel speaks highly of their professionalism and demonstrates their fierce commitment to their research and to the mission at JSC.