The tornadoes that barreled through Alabama Wednesday night and Thursday knocked out power to Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, headquarters of Army logistics and missile commands and the home of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. The power outage and center's subsequent closure will not affect the launch of the space shuttle Endeavor planned for Friday.
Emily Smith, a NASA spokeswoman at the Kennedy Space Flight Center in Florida, said the "shuttle mission is still a go" despite the closure of the Marshall Space Flight Center. The Huntsville center has responsibility for the shuttle propulsion systems, the external fuel tank and operations center, which supports shuttle launches.
Daniel Kanigan, a spokesman for Marshall Space Flight Center, said the Huntsville Operations Support Center is running on backup generators "and launch support operations are up and running." He said engineers from Huntsville "are on the ground at Kennedy Space Center who monitor and evaluate the main engines, solid rocket boosters and external tank to ensure they are ready, performing well and safe to fly."
Bill Costlow, a spokesman for the headquarters of the Army Installation Management Command in San Antonio, Texas, said Redstone will remain closed until the storm-damaged statewide power grid can provide power to the base.
Dave Childers, a spokesman for the southeast region of the Installation Management Command in Atlanta, said communications systems are for the most part inoperable at Redstone due to the power outage, including email and videoconferencing systems.
The base's emergency operations center is running on backup power, with sporadic communications. Only mission essential personnel are working at Redstone, headquarters for the Army Materiel Command, Aviation and Missile Command, and Space and Missile Defense Command, Childers said.
Dan O'Boyle, a Redstone spokesman, said the base does have some connectivity on secret networks and is working to restore service in unclassified networks.
The primary means of communications with employees is local television and radio stations, O'Boyle said. He added that a public affairs staffer who does have an Internet connection at home is providing Facebook and Twitter feeds.
John Cummings, a spokesman for the Space and Missile Defense Command, said Redstone employees started to head home yesterday at 2 p.m. under a liberal leave policy. Cumming said while he can receive voice calls on is Army BlackBerry, he cannot send emails because of the lack of power for the server at Redstone.
Huntsville television station WHNT reported cellphone service was spotty throughout the region, largely due to the sheer volume of calls being made.
The Utility DXers Forum, an online group that monitors military shortwave communications, reported Thursday that the Alabama National Guard had activated its shortwave network to communicate with the state emergency operations centers.
Also on Thursday, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley mobilized approximately 1,400 Alabama National Guardsmen help with search-and-rescue operations, logistical coordination of debris removal, and security assistance to local law enforcement agencies.
Staff correspondent Joseph Marks contributed to this article.