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NASA Keeps External Tank Work in New Orleans

NASA Lauds Shuttle Fuel Tank Plant Workers
NASA chief Michael Griffin surveys damage to one of the space shuttle's external tank which occured during Hurricane Katrina. (Image credit: NASA.)

CAPECANAVERAL - The recovery at NASA's hurricane-battered external tank factory inNew Orleans is going so well the agency says it will not need to move some ofthe work to Kennedy Space Center as once thought.

The spaceagency announced Friday that the Michoud Assembly Facility will be ready toresume tank work before facilities at KSC could be outfitted for the job. Poweris back on and temporary repairs have been made to buildings.

HurricaneKatrina did more than $1 billion in damage to the tank factory and StennisSpace Center in Mississippi, where space shuttle main engines are tested beforeshipment to KSC for flight.

The spaceagency said Friday it is assessing the number and type of workers needed to getminimal operations restarted at Michoud. NASA and contractor Lockheed Martinhave now been able to account for all but 76 of the factory's 2,000 employees.

Tentativeplans call for shipment of two tanks from KSC in October. Once back at thefactory, the tanks will aid in NASA's investigation of why fuel tank foaminsulation came free during Discovery's flight in July -- repeating the problemthat caused the Columbia accident in 2003.

The agencyexpects to have to make further safety modifications to the foam on the tanks,and that work will be done at the New Orleans factory.

Theearliest possible date for NASA's next shuttle mission is March, but it couldbe delayed into the summer or fall of next year.

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