Hurricane Katrina Closes NASA's External Tank Factory

Hurricane Katrina Closes NASA's External Tank Factory
The National Hurricane Center shows Katrina's predicted path in this map released on Aug. 28, 2005. (Image credit: National Hurricane Center.)

The plant that builds spaceshuttle external fuel tanks cleared out Sunday morning as colossal HurricaneKatrina roared toward shore.

NASA's Michoud AssemblyFacility in New Orleans employs about 2,000 Lockheed Martin workers, some fromas far as Tennessee and Texas. The facility closed at 8 a.m. Sunday, per thecity's mandatory evacuation order.

Marion LaNasa, director ofcommunications for Lockheed, estimated the plant will not reopen until thirdshift Tuesday -- at the earliest, depending on road conditions.

"We've been keepingtrack of this system Friday and Saturday, especially early Saturdayevening," LaNasa said. "We're following standard procedures toprepare for the hurricane. We've put the tanks on breathers and the facilityhas back up generators. We're as prepared as we can be for the largest storm tohit the continental U.S."

About two dozen people willremain at the facility -- which includes a deep water port and 43-acre roofedmanufacturing plant -- during the storm. The team investigating the shuttlefoam loss left for Huntsville, Ala., earlier this week.

Kennedy Space Center was inthe process of shipping three tanks back to the plant for safety modifications.With those shipments and other work at the plant on hold, NASA faces a threatto an on-time shuttle launch in March.

That's even if there is notmajor damage to the NASA complex, fuel tanks and the one-of-a-kind machinerythere.

Further inland, the NASAMarshall Space Flight Center closed Sunday morning in anticipation of thehurricane, a switchboard operator said.

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