NASA Considers Fixing Shuttle Fuel Tanks at KSC

CAPECANAVERAL, Fla. - NASA might repair and modify shuttle external tanks atKennedy Space Center to make up for time lost to an extended shutdown of amanufacturing plant in New Orleans.

No final decisions have been made, but a team is developing options thatinclude performing the work in the 52-story Vehicle Assembly Building or apayload processing facility in the KSC Industrial Area.

"We're looking at different alternatives to offset the loss of work"at Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana, said KSC spokesman Bruce Buckingham.

"We expect Michoud is going to be without power for at least a month orlonger, so we've been asked to form a team to develop options to performrepairs and modification work here."

The Lockheed Martin external tank factory was knocked out of action whenKatrina swept ashore earlier this week, devastating cities and towns across theGulf Coast.

The sprawling manufacturing plant was swamped with up to two inches of waterand only helicopters can get there now because surrounding roadways areflooded.

The facility has no electrical power, communication is limited, and itsuncertain when the factory will reopen for business.

Many of the 2,000 people sustained serious damage to their homes, so itsuncertain when they will be able to return to work.

The factory had been playing a central role in NASA's effort to determine why aone-pound chunk of foam insulation broke free from Discovery's external tankduring its late July launch, barely missing the shuttles right wing.

A 1.67-pound piece of foam from Columbia's tank blasted a hole in that shuttlesleft wing. The damage went undetected and hot gasses ripped the shuttle apartduring a disastrous atmospheric reentry in February 2003.

The foam loss on Discovery's flight prompted NASA to indefinitely delay allfuture shuttle missions until the problem is fixed.

NASA's second post-Columbia test flight is tentatively scheduled for March butlikely will be delayed until May or later.

Buckingham said the KSC team is identifying buildings that much of which mustbe done while the 154-foot tanks are lying horizontally.

Among possible locations:

  • The transfer aisle of the Vehicle Assembly Building, a ground floor area between high bays that stretches some 718 feet from the north to the south side of the building.
  • The KSC Operations and Checkout Building, which features a lengthy, environmentally controlled low bay where NASA has worked on Gemini and Apollo spacecraft as well as Skylab, the nation's first space station, and European Spacelab modules.

Theteam also is examining what ground support equipment would be needed to performrepair and modification work at KSC. Another factor: Identifying people at KSCand Michoud who have the right skills and certifications to perform the work.

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Aerospace Journalist

Todd Halvoron is a veteran aerospace journalist based in Titusville, Florida who covered NASA and the U.S. space program for 27 years with Florida Today. His coverage for Florida Today also appeared in USA Today, and 80 other newspapers across the United States. Todd earned a bachelor's degree in English literature, journalism and fiction from the University of Cincinnati and also served as Florida Today's Kennedy Space Center Bureau Chief during his tenure at Florida Today. Halvorson has been an independent aerospace journalist since 2013.