NASA's plan to resume space shuttle flights in March could be disrupted by Hurricane Katrina's passage over the Louisiana factory where the shuttles' external fuel tanks are made, officials said on Tuesday.
About 35 employees at NASA's prime tank contractor, Lockheed Martin, were holed up at the Michoud Assembly Facility 15 miles (25 km) east of New Orleans, where they were joined by 28 local fire department officials, throughout Katrina's assault.
The Michoud facilities, however, are showing no immediate signs of critical damage to the eight shuttle fuel tanks or the manufacturing equipment, said NASA's Allard Beutel, with the agency's Washington D.C., headquarters, reports Reuters.
"My heart goes out to all the people affected by this hurricane," said NASA Administrator Michael Griffin. "I will be visiting Stennis and the Michoud Assembly Facility soon to talk with our people."
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., sustained minor damage and is providing support to Stennis and Michoud. Two helicopter flights from Marshall were delivering communication equipment and other supplies to the facilities today. Initial damage assessments indicate some buildings at Stennis sustained water and roof damage, but the exact extent has not been determined.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is using the center as a staging area for local recovery efforts. The center's Space Shuttle main engine test stands do not appear to be damaged, informs NASA official site.