Eyes on MAF as Katrina hits

by Chris Bergin

The Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans is under serious threat, as Hurricane Katrina – a large Cat 4 – steams into Gulf Coast of the United States.

MAF has – along with one million people – been evacuated, with only a small rideout crew bunkered down in the sprawling facility.
The importance to NASA’s Space Shuttle program goes without saying, with the facility being the place of construction for the External Tanks that fuel the Orbiter during launch.

All the External Tanks that are set to be provided for the remaining flights of the Space Shuttle are at various stages of production at the factory.

ET-119 was set to arrive back at MAF for modification, after setting off from the Kennedy Space Center last Tuesday, but never left Port Canaveral due to storm weather from Katrina – as it headed over south Florida on the way to its current destination. ET-120 and ET-117 are both still at KSC.

“We’re up to 90mph winds. It’s expected to go up to 155mph. The eye will pass over in-between Mississippi and New Orleans – with both areas hit with devastating rain, wind and flooding,” said Andrew Wilson of Sky News at midday UK time. “This could still go up to a Cat 5, although right now it’s staying as a strong Cat 4.”

At least two ETs are required for the Shuttle program to re-start in the spring of 2006 – with the PAL Ramp removal and re-spraying required.

A source at KSC noted that serious damage to MAF would not immediately stop this from going ahead.

“It is possible to temporarily do work on the horizontal at KSC – with workers and spare equipment from MAF being used,” he said. “Although, that would be a last resort scenario depending on how long MAF will be out of service. Evaluations will be on-going after Katrina has hit.”

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