NASA announces Shuttle delay due to Hurricane Katrina

Friday, September 9, 2005

There will be a delay in future Shuttle flights until at least the fall of 2006, due to damaged NASA facilities that house and manufacture parts for the Shuttle program. Hurricane Katrina has damaged several NASA facilities, including not only the Kennedy Space Center, but more importantly the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans itself and the Stennis Space Center on the gulf coast of Mississippi, both major worksites of NASA subcontractors that help with the servicing of parts for the shuttle.

The Michoud New Orleans facility is the primary manufacturing facility for the external fuel tanks that are used on Shuttle launches. The Stennis Space Center is the manufacturing and test center for the main shuttle rocket engines. NASA is still trying to contact employees who have been evacuated from the New Orleans and Gulf Coast areas who have not reported to work due to the disaster and current situation in New Orleans. NASA announced that the Michoud Assembly Facility will not reopen until September 26th at the earliest.

There have been many setbacks for the Shuttle program as well. Hurricane Katrina simply added to these problems. Hurricane Ophelia forced the facilities at the Kennedy Space Center to go into a weather protection status, returning the shuttle Atlantis back to its hanger from the Vehicle Assembly building. The external fuel tank that was earlier scheduled to return to New Orleans prior to Katrina for some minor repairs had to be secured from the storm. MSNBC reported that Wayne Hale, NASA’s deputy shuttle program manager, suggests that it may be over a year before they can get back to flying another shuttle mission.

Among other problems facing NASA, employees at these damaged facilities have faced very personal losses. Some have lost family members, their homes, and more. In some cases, NASA has been unable to locate employees, or employees of contractors. For those that have been located, many of them from New Orleans are being transferred either to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, or to the Marshall Space Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

At the Stennis Space Center, they at first attempted to put the facility to use as an evacuee center to take in some people coming from out of New Orleans. As of Wednesday, those plans were dropped when evacuees were being transferred to other facilities better equipped to deal with their long term needs. The center is now focusing on efforts to recover from the damage to the facility itself.

At the Michoud Assembly Facility, the U.S. Marine Corp is also using it as a staging area for its operations in New Orleans, and as a temporary military base.