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Hurricane threatens shuttle tank facility
Posted: Mon, Aug 29, 2005, 7:18 AM ET (1118 GMT)
Michoud Assembly Facility (Lockheed Martin) A powerful hurricane headed for New Orleans threatens to damage the plant where the space shuttle's external tanks are built. Hurricane Katrina is expected to make landfall Monday near New Orleans, home of the Michoud Assembly Facility, where the shuttle's external tanks are assembled. The site, located on the eastern edge of the city, currently has seven "substantially complete" tanks, with another 8-10 in various stages of assembly. The plant, which dates back to World War 2, is located below sea level. While protected by levees at least six meters above sea level, plant officials fear a direct strike could generate storm surges that could swamp those levees. However, by early Monday the hurricane had weakened slightly to a Category Four storm, with peak sustained winds of 240 km/h, and the storm's track had moved slightly to the east. A "rideout" crew of about two dozen people has remained at the plant to maintain the plant during the storm, while the facility will remain closed at least through late Tuesday. Any significant damage to the plant could affect both the shuttle program as well as proposals to use shuttle-derived vehicles to support future NASA exploration plans.
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