Fully Operational – MAF

by Chris Bergin

The Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) in New Orleans has declared itself fully operational, following its recovery from Hurricane Katrina.

Integral to NASA’s Return to Flight 3, MAF is back to full speed on efforts to send modified External Tanks (ETs) back to the Kennedy Space Center in time to support a May launch of STS-121.

Lockheed Martin Michoud Operations Vice President and General Manager of MAF, Marshall Byrd, made the declaration by addressing media at the plant last night, adding his praise to the workers who suffered more than the facility itself during the devastating hurricane.

While the plant escaped major damage, Byrd said that 600 members of the workforce lost their homes, as the nearby Slidell area of New Orleans – where most of the MAF workers live – was hit hard by Katrina.

300 of those workers in Slidell cannot return to their homes for some time and some 2,000 employees are in need of help with their housing requirements. Lockheed Martin has even leased a hotel complex for 140 of its workers.

Boosting recent comments from Space Shuttle manager Wayne Hale, Byrd noted that the facility is now fully focused on supporting the May launch date, currently a NET (No Sooner Than) target of May 3 for Discovery on STS-121.

“Today, we consider ourselves fully operational,” he said, quoted in the Advocate. “It’s a big day for the product but it’s a bigger day for the people.”

MAF needs to turn around two ETs, namely ET-119 and ET-120, to support this mission, with Atlantis requiring her own tank for the supporting role of STS-300. Atlantis is primarily set to launch on a NET date of July 1, on STS-115.

Modifications to the ETs involve removing the PAL Ramp – which proved troublesome during STS-114’s ascent – and replacing it with a shorter foam wedge of a ramp, including a new application process, in the hope that it will not shed foam as it did during launch earlier this year.

NASA is expecting a report from all their key Shuttle processing facilities over the coming days, from which they will form a conclusion on officially setting the NET launch dates for the next six missions.

MAF should help NASA come to a positive conclusion in that regard, as Byrd explained that despite the chaos of Katrina, only a handful of facility’s skilled workforce have decided to leave in the aftermath.

“I feel really good about that,” he added. “That’s a tribute to NASA and Lockheed.”

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