Hurricane Katrina has indefinitely idled the Louisiana factory that assembles space shuttle fuel tanks and NASA said on Friday it is looking to see if other facilities can make critical tank repairs.
NASA had tentatively planned its next shuttle mission for March, but additional delays were likely due to interruptions in the tank repair work that must be done before the shuttle can fly again.
The agency was primarily focused on trying to find the employees and contractors who work at the shuttle fuel tanks assembly plant operated by Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Louisiana, as well as a field center in Mississippi where space shuttle engines are tested.
Both sites were in the path of Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed huge sections of the U.S. Gulf Coast when it blasted ashore with 145 mph (232 kph) winds on Monday.
"We're getting into contact with people," said NASA spokesman Allard Beutel. "We're trying to take a head count."
NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans and the Stennis Space Center in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, appear to have sustained roof and water damage in the storm. Neither was expected to resume operations soon, reports Reuters.
According to MSNBC, Harry Wadsworth, a Lockheed Martin spokesman for Michoud operations, said an emergency team at the external tank facility has been clearing debris.
"Ours is a fairly open area with buildings. There are not a lot of trees, which is probably good," Wadsworth told Space.com in a phone interview. He is positioned three hours away from Michoud at this time, in Lafayette, La.