Image: Vehicle Assembly Building
An aerial photograph shows damage to the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. The shuttle fuel tanks at the facility are undamaged, NASA says, but it will be weeks before workers can return.
By Senior space writer
updated 9/2/2005 3:07:53 PM ET 2005-09-02T19:07:53

NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, where space shuttle external tanks are constructed, appears to have escaped major damage from Hurricane Katrina.

But it's not known just how many employees at the site — operated by Lockheed Martin Space Systems for NASA — are missing, evacuated from the area, and are now without housing.

Lockheed Martin’s main Internet site is now reformatted and headlined with response information for the firm's employees affected by Hurricane Katrina. It carries a hotline number that operates from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET weekdays, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends. A message posted on the Web site said there were "no injuries reported" but the company was "still confirming status of some employees."

"The facility will re-open no earlier than Monday, September 26," the company says.

The site calls out: "Let us know if you’re OK … If you are a Lockheed Martin employee affected by Hurricane Katrina, we’d like to know you’re OK."

The site requests company workers to call the hotline or send an e-mail listing their name, business unit, a phone number and an address where that individual can be reached. It also says that several locations with Lockheed Martin employees were affected by the hurricane.

Operators at a Lockheed Martin Hurricane Katrina Employee Assistance Hotline are assisting in answering employee questions, or guiding them to the appropriate resources for assistance.

Workforce disruption
Harry Wadsworth, a Lockheed Martin spokesman for Michoud operations, said an emergency team at the external tank facility has been clearing debris.

"Ours is a fairly open area with buildings. There are not a lot of trees, which is probably good," Wadsworth told in a phone interview. He is positioned three hours away from Michoud at this time, in Lafayette, La.

Image: Tank in assembly building
A shuttle fuel tank rises inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana. The space agency is reportedly considering a plan to transport the tanks from Michoud to Kennedy Space Center in Florida for finishing work.
Like many others that work at the Michoud facilities, Wadsworth also has no idea whether or not his own home survived the horrific blow to the area created by Hurricane Katrina.

"I’m hoping that my house is dry. I would be lucky if it is," Wadsworth said. His wife is a nurse at one of the local hospitals, part of an essential team that has been in the New Orleans area since Monday.

"People are scattered all over in various cities … places where they took refuge from the storm with their families," Wadsworth said.

Regarding the disruption of the workforce at the facility, Wadsworth said that this remains an unknown.

"It will be one of the challenges … to get employees temporary housing, apartments," or other types of shelter, Wadsworth added. "That’s something that a lot of the companies in New Orleans are looking into."

Water, power issues
The Lockheed Martin work force is between 2,000 and 2,100 employees at the NASA Michoud Assembly Facility, Wadsworth said.

Wadsworth said that it is doubtful very many people have been able to get back and check on their homes, although some areas are open. For those able to return to the hard-hit area at this time, there is no water availability, power or air conditioning to combat the 98-degree outside temperature, he said.

The 832-acre NASA Michoud Assembly Facility is located in New Orleans, Louisiana some 24 miles (38 kilometers) from New Orleans International Airport and 15 miles (24 kilometers) from the French Quarter.

The Michoud facility uses a deep-water access port for the transportation of the large external tanks by barge across the Gulf of Mexico, around Florida and up to Kennedy Space Center.

Lockheed Martin’s toll-free Hurricane Katrina Employee Assistance Hotline for employees is at (800) 563-8442.

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