NASA’s Michoud facility damaged by tornado

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WASHINGTON — NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans suffered damage from a tornado that hit the city Feb. 7, but the agency said no critical space hardware being built there was damaged by the storm.

The tornado struck the facility, in the eastern side of the city, at 12:25 p.m. Eastern. NASA said in a statement late Feb. 7 that all of Michoud’s 3,500 employees have been accounted for, with five suffering minor injuries.

NASA said that the tornado damaged at least two buildings at the facility, including the main manufacturing building, which has roof damage in several areas. Michoud was closed to all but emergency personnel after the storm, and will remain closed through at least Feb. 8.

“Michoud has a comprehensive emergency plan that we activated today to ensure the safety of our people and to secure our facilities,” said Keith Hefner, director of the facility, in a statement. “The safety of our team is always our main concern, and we are pleased to report that we’ve identified only minor injuries.”

Michoud dates back to World War 2, when it was built to serve as a factory for cargo aircraft. NASA took over the facility in 1961 and used it to manufacture first stages of the Saturn 5 rocket. It later built the space shuttle’s external tanks.

Today, NASA uses Michoud to support assembly of the Orion crew vehicle and the core stage of the Space Launch System. The storm did not damage any Orion or SLS hardware currently at Michoud, NASA said in its statement.

The tornado is not the first time severe weather has damaged Michoud. In August 2005, the facility suffered some wind damage from Hurricane Katrina as it struck New Orleans. It escaped, however, the flooding that inundated large parts of the city, thanks to a small “rideout” team that remained behind at Michoud during the height of the storm to operate pumps.

The tornado caused damage along a path up to four kilometers long in the eastern part of New Orleans. Local officials, in a statement posted on the city government website late Feb. 7, said there were 31 injuries reported from the storm city-wide, including five who suffered moderate to severe injuries. There were no deaths attributed to the storm.