Plans are being finalised to move External Tank modification work from the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) – allowing NASA to still go-ahead with the planned launch of STS-121 (RTF-3) in the Spring of 2006.
The recent tragic events in New Orleans – home to MAF and most of its employees – had raised serious doubts over whether the facility could complete modification work on the ETs in time to support a Spring launch.
Although the factory is understood to have escaped serious damage from Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent flooding of the area, the impact on operations – most notably the workers – has forced the hand of NASA and the United Space Alliance (USA) to come up with a plan that relates to the three ETs that are still in Florida.
Originally, all External Tanks were to be sent back to MAF for work on the PAL Ramp area of the ETs, an area that liberated foam during assent on STS-114. Modification of the ETs would see the PAL Ramp foam being removed, as well as additional foam work to reduce the on-going issue of foam shedding.
Ironically, it was Katrina’s path over southern Florida that stopped ET-119 from leaving Port Canaveral – the first of the three ETs to be sent back to MAF. ET-119 will now be unloaded from its barge.
ET-120, still attached with Atlantis on what was to be STS-121, will be destacked on September 7. ET-117 currently remains in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB).
“A NASA Lead Quality that it’s KSCs plan to bring 55-60 MAF employees and families down here to work on ETs, and that the work will be done here,” said one KSC Engineer.
Where the work will be undertaken is also being evaluated, with several options being discussed.
“There is talk of using deactivated Titan IV buildings on Cape Canaveral side but I don’t know what the final plan will be,” said another KSC source. “This hasn’t matured yet and could do them in the VAB as well. Likely the work will be done here in the VAB, SLF hanger or O&C building.”
While it is hoped MAF will re-open next Tuesday for some workers to try and fully evaluate the state of the facility, the human cost will never truly be understood for some time.
One MAF employee – who had evacuated to Texas – spoke of his fears for his fellow workers.
“We may not be able to return home until Christmas,” he wrote. “So unbelievable that this has happened, and it wasn’t even a direct hit. More than likely my house is currently underwater, but we can’t get any information to tell us which areas are flooded.
“I can’t begin to tell you how devastated we all are. Most of MAF’s employees live in Slidell, which was hit directly by Katrina. Nearly all buildings (at least 85%) in Slidell were heavily damaged or destroyed. I haven’t been able to get in touch with any of my co-workers and am so worried about them. I hope they got out safely.
“Damage at MAF was light; they had a couple feet water pass through most of the facility when the storm surge moved through (MAF is in eastern New Orleans, which was the area most heavily impacted) and there were some broken windows and a little roof damage, but that’s about it. Otherwise all is fine.
“They are now planning to re-open MAF on Sept. 26, but I don’t think any of the employees will be able to come back to work by then. The ‘twin-span’ – a four-lane bridge that connects Slidell to Eastern New Orleans – was wiped out. This was used by 60 per cent of MAF employees every day to get to and from work. No idea how they’re going to cope with that.”
If you are a Lockheed Martin employee from the area, a request has been sent out for all employees to contact the company via http://www.lockheed.com asap.