- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 3, 2005

A NASA factory near New Orleans where the space shuttle’s external tanks are manufactured escaped major damage from Katrina, but the hurricane might result in a delay for the next shuttle flight.

When Katrina hit Monday, there were eight external tanks in various stages of being manufactured at the Michoud Assembly Facility, located 14 miles from downtown New Orleans.

A hole in the roof caused one of the tanks to get wet, but officials said it did not appear to be damaged. Roadways around the factory were damaged, and the only access to the site was by helicopter or boat. In addition to the infrastructure damage, many of the factory’s employees lost their homes during the hurricane.

Three other external tanks, which were scheduled to be used on the next three shuttle missions, are at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

After a large piece of foam fell off an external tank during Discovery’s launch in July, NASA made plans to send the three tanks back to Michoud for repairs. The agency now is assessing the damage at Michoud before deciding whether to ship the tanks there or make the necessary changes in Florida.

NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Miss., also sustained water and roof damage during the hurricane. In contrast to Michoud, where only emergency personnel were working, Stennis now is serving as a shelter for 1,500 persons who were left homeless by the hurricane. The runway has been cleared, and relief flights are bringing in emergency supplies, including generators, food and satellite telephones.

The space agency’s situation is similar to the one it found itself in last year, when several hurricanes in Florida pounded the Kennedy Space Center. The damage from the 2004 hurricanes contributed to a decision to delay resuming shuttle flights for two months. NASA managers are assessing whether the hurricane damage at Michoud and Stennis will affect plans for the next launch, planned for March.

“We just don’t know what kind of impact Katrina is going to have on our schedules,” a NASA spokesperson said.

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