MAF survives – Griffin updates

by Chris Bergin

Reports claim the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans – home of the External Tank production – has survived Hurricane Katrina, which ripped through New Orleans yesterday.

NASA head Mike Griffin has also made a statement on the current status of the facility and NASA workers in the area.

The storm, which is thought to have killed several hundred people, will take some time to evaluate how all areas of the US Gulf Coast have been affected. However, a MAF spokesman has confirmed the facility has survived with minimal damage.

There are unconfirmed reports of 80 deaths on the Gulf Coast of America – but that figure is expected to rise sharply.

Thousands of homes are underwater, more than a million people are without power and police in New Orleans have declared martial law to stop looters.

The city is under curfew and residents are being advised to boil their drinking water.

In one beachside apartment complex east of the city, 30 people are known to have been killed.

That toll is expected to rise when rescuers reach outlying areas cut-off by floodwaters. The mayor of one town in Misssissippi said “this was our Tsunami”. 

The state of MAF held some early positives, with one of the few reports from the rideout crew inside the factory noting that pumps were working well to keep flood waters down.

However, in the last few hours, Lockheed Martin spokesman Evan McCollum, told New Scientist that the facility has escaped major damage which could have held up NASA’s Return to Flight (RTF-3) of Discovery next Spring.

“Several roofs at Michoud have damage that will need repairs. There are a few broken windows where limbs of trees have crashed in and the facility will be closed until at least next Tuesday,” he said. 

“It’s still without power. We have generators providing electricity to emergency crews, but they’ll need to get power back before they open the facility.”

Hurricane Katrina hit land at daybreak yesterday – the eye of the storm striking the coast just east of New Orleans. Parts of that city are now under water.

It then headed north east, with winds of 105mph battering coastal towns in the states of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Biloxi, a coastal town in Mississippi appears to have been the worst hit – but right along the coastline there has been severe damage. Emergency teams have been struggling to rescue those that are trapped.

At least three British tourists were among the 10,000 people who sought refuge in the New Orleans Superdome, which had part of its roof ripped off.

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour said Katrina hit the state “like a ton of bricks.”

As it blew further inland it subsided to a Category 1 storm with winds of 75mph and it is now classified as a tropical storm.

Griffin, speaking this evening, made the following statement:

“In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we fortunately have no reports of any injuries or deaths among NASA employees, contractors or family members at our Stennis Space Center and Michoud Assembly Facility. Based on early assessments, both locations did suffer building damage from the storm, with no immediate indications of damage to flight hardware.

“We also are grateful that the Stennis Space Center provided shelter to 4,000 people — NASA employees, contractors and family members and stranded local residents — as the hurricane moved through. The Stennis Space Center is still being used as a shelter location and the Center’s parking lot is being used by Federal Emergency Management Agency officials as a staging area for recovery operations. The Stennis Space Center and Michoud Assembly Facility will be closed for business while recovery efforts continue.

“Currently, Emergency Operations Centers at the affected Centers and Headquarters are now open and will remain open during business hours as needed. As emergency crews begin the difficult work of clearing debris and restoring power and other services to the facilities on site, we also are assessing how resources across the entire agency can best be used to offer support to the Stennis Space Center and Michoud Assembly Facility. The Marshall Space Flight Center is already helping tremendously by serving as a hub for off-site emergency procurement activities. Two helicopter flights from Marshall will deliver communication equipment and other supplies to the facilities today.

“In the coming days and weeks, we want to make certain our colleagues and their families get the help they need. While there is considerable federal and state assistance on the way, NASA employees can get involved by contributing to the NASA Family Assistance Fund at The NASA Family Assistance Fund will provide a grant of up to $400 and an interest free loan of up to $600 for people living in declared disaster areas.

“My heart goes out to all the people affected by the hurricane. I will be visiting the Stennis Space Center and Michoud Assembly Facility as soon as possible.

Mike Griffin.
NASA Administrator.”

Update thread:

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