Tornado damages NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility
NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) was the site of a confirmed tornado strike at 11:25 a.m. CST (12:25 p.m. EST / 17:25 GMT). So far, only minor injuries have been reported, and NASA is accounting for all of its personnel and contractors as well as assessing the damage caused by the storm.
Meanwhile, officials are continuing to monitor the weather and the agency’s emergency response team is assessing just how much damage the storm inflicted on the nearly 80-year-old facility.
Images appearing on the Space Alabama website show cars on their roof in one of the parking lots at the MAF. NASASpaceFlight.com has an image that appears to show the tornado touching down, with transformers arcing.
Michoud is where NASA is manufacturing the space agency’s massive new super-heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System. The MAF, which is located near New Orleans, spans an impressive 832 acres (3.37 square kilometers).
As of this writing, it is unclear what, if any, damage might have been done to the rockets that are currently under development (the first of these is being prepared for Exploration Mission 1, currently slated to take place in late 2018). NASA has prioritized the assessment to Bldg 103 so that the environmental controls of the Space Launch System and Orion can be maintained.
The MAF was used during World War II for the construction of C-76 cargo planes. During the Korean War, it was used to construct engines for Sherman and Patton tanks. Then, in 1961, NASA took over control of the facility.
During the Space Shuttle Program, the MAF was where the large, rust-colored External Tanks that the orbiter used on its 135 missions were produced.
UPDATE: According to an internal NASA memo an estimated 40 to 50 percent of the buildings at Michoud received some level of damage, with five buildings receiving “severe” damage. Building 350, which houses the USDA National Finance Center, had the largest amount of damage. Power was restored to Michoud’s substation last night (Feb. 7, morning of Feb. 8).
NASA issued the following statement via a press release issued on Feb. 8:
Michoud remains closed to all but security and emergency operations crews. Temporary flight restrictions are in place over the area to ensure recovery and operations crews can complete their work without interference from other drones or low-flying aircraft. All Michoud personnel are accounted for, and no new injuries have been reported.
“The entire NASA family pulls together during good times and bad, and the teams at the Michoud Assembly Facility are working diligently to recover from the severe weather that swept through New Orleans Tuesday and damaged the facility,” said acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot. “We are thankful for the safety of all the NASA employees and workers of onsite tenant organizations, and we are inspired by the resilience of Michoud as we continue to assess the facility’s status.”
Video courtesy of NASA
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.