As tropical storm Harvey continues to drench Houston, turning streets into muddy rivers, NASA workers are keeping watch over a giant $8.6 billion space telescope at the edge of the city.
The James Webb Space Telescope is currently sitting inside a massive, sealed cryogenic chamber at the Johnson Space Center, a sprawling NASA facility in southeast Houston. In July, Webb began a 100-day stint in the vault-like chamber, which simulates the extreme conditions in space. Vacuum pumps remove the air inside the chamber, and liquid nitrogen and helium get pumped in to produce temperatures found in deep space.
As Harvey moved inland, an emergency-operations Twitter account for Johnson reported flooding in the area, tweeting early Sunday morning: “Getting multiple reports of flooding homes all around our area. Water on site is over the sidewalks approaching steps. Knee deep in streets.” A Sunday morning tweet said the complex had received 22 inches of rain, and an afternoon tweet reported “heavy rain hammering us again. (More than 31 inches of rain have fallen, according to the latest statement from Johnson Monday afternoon.)
The reports must have worried some Webb fans, leading NASA to publicly reassure people on Monday:
William Jeffs, a spokesperson for Johnson Space Center, said in an email Monday there have been “no issues with operations.” “All backup facility systems required to maintain the telescope have been checked and readied for use if necessary,” Jeffs said.