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NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility Escapes Wrath of Gustav
Hurricane Gustav lashes Michoud Assembly Facility

Water rose dockside, which is outside the levee at Michoud, as Hurricane Gustav passed over Sept. 1. Only 1.5 inches of rain accumulated on the ground inside the levee and just one of the four pumps operated to keep Michoud dry. Image Credit: NASA

NASA's Michoud Assembly in New Orleans experienced sustained winds of 50-60 mph, with gusts of up to 89 mph, when Hurricane Gustav passed to the west of New Orleans Sept. 1.

Michoud is a NASA-owned facility managed by the Marshall Space Flight Center. The world-class manufacturing facility provides vital support to NASA exploration and discovery missions. Michoud manufactures and assembles critical hardware components for the space shuttle and exploration vehicles under development at Marshall and other NASA field centers.

Michoud is below sea level, located alongside a deep-water canal at the intersection of the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway and the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet. It is protected from hurricane surge by a levee along the waterfront. The factory site is kept dry by a pumping station.

Initial reports following the hurricane indicated 1.5 inches of rainfall accumulated on the Michoud grounds, but high-capacity pumps, designed to remove excess water, performed normally, according to a Marshall Center Emergency Operations Center Update on Sept. 2. The water level in the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway never rose to within 5 feet of the top of the levee that protects Michoud from the Gulf of Mexico waters.

Hurricane Gustav lashes Michoud Assembly Facility

Rains from Hurricane Gustav drenched Michoud's shipping dock, where space shuttle external tanks are loaded onto NASA's Pegasus barge for shipment to the Kennedy Space Center, Fla. Image Credit: NASA

There were no injuries to the 64-person storm crew that stayed on-site to monitor the hurricane. Called the ride-out crew because they stay behind to "ride out the storm," its members include NASA civil service, Lockheed Martin contractor employees and Coastal International Security personnel.

"We have an experienced ride-out crew and they executed the emergency plan for hurricanes just the way they were supposed to," said Clyde "Chip" Jones, Michoud's chief operating officer.

"We were fortunate to have missed the worst of the storm," he said, noting that facility preparations before the hurricane ensured that damages were kept to a minimum. "We had excellent cooperation from Marshall's Emergency Operations Center and a wide range of other Marshall organizations."

Based on initial assessments, there was no damage to flight hardware or support equipment at Michoud. Some of its facilities did suffer minimal damage caused by wind and water intrusion. Major plant infrastructure systems became fully operational Sept. 3.

Infrared image of Hurricane Gustav

Infrared image of Hurricane Gustav, hours after landfall in Louisiana. Image Credit: NASA/JPL

A limited number of Lockheed Martin personnel will begin a detailed inspection to restart production of space shuttle external tanks, which is targeted to begin Sept. 8. That schedule will depend on the ability of Michoud's workforce to return to their homes in the New Orleans area.

NASA managers are keeping an eye on other hurricanes developing in the Atlantic Ocean, and the impact they could have on space shuttle operations at the Kennedy Space Center, Fla. The targeted launch date of space shuttle Atlantis' mission to the Hubble Space Telescope for a fifth and final servicing mission, STS-125, is Oct. 10.

> Video: Gustav Lashes Michoud Assembly Facility (QuickTime, 27 MB)
> Video: Michoud Pumping Station During Gustav (QuickTime, 15.9 MB)

Sanda Martel (AI Signal Research)
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center

Media Contact: Steve Roy, Marshall Space Flight Center