NASA prepares BlackBerry backup

With Florida facing the possibility of its third hurricane in a month, NASA is putting together a backup plan for its message system based on Research in Motion Ltd. BlackBerry devices.

Last week, NASA officials turned off networks at Kennedy Space Center rather than have Hurricane Frances bring them down. This time, officials hope to have a PIN-to-PIN system based on personal identification numbers that would allow workers to communicate directly with one another if NASA has to shut down networks again, according to agency spokeswoman Melissa Mathews.

"They are working on a workaround system for BlackBerry service," Mathews said. "It's like [instant messaging] but doesn't involve networks."

NASA teams are currently surveying the Kennedy Space Center for damage caused by Hurricane Frances. Initial assessments show that the center weathered the storm fairly well, but there is some damage to the Vehicle Assembly Building.

There are no reports of injured workers; the Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour space shuttles do not appear to be damaged; and the servers are up and running.

"Our initial feeling is we dodged a real bullet," said James Kennedy, the center's director. "Even though this was the worst storm ever to hit [the Kennedy Space Center], I feel very fortunate."

As of today, the space center remained closed for most employees.

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