Saturday, January 07, 2006

In the Path of Katrina: NASA Awards 38 for Bravery at Michoud

It made the news, but was overshadowed by national and international tragedies: NASA honored 38 brave souls last week for saving the US Space Program in the face of complete devastation by hurricane Katrina.

The Michoud Assembly Facility is near where the eye of Katrina made landfall. Currently shuttle external fuel tanks are produced there, the same ones to be used in NASA's next generation spacecraft.

The facility and the workers who remained endured 130+ mile per hour winds and crashing waves of water surging 19 feet above levee walls. Together this skeleton crew manned pumps day and night, ultimately removing more than a billion gallons of water, preventing serious downtime and damage to space hardware. Only one external fuel tank suffered any damage when a ceiling tile crashed down and struck its side.

In all, 94 percent of workers at Michoud suffered some damage to their own houses, and more than 600 lost their homes completely. Most lived in short-term housing facilities with their families as they continued working to get the facility re-opened.

As NASA Chief Mike Griffin said himself, it is a reminder that "not all of NASA's heroes fly in space."

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