Press Release

NASA Michoud Assembly Facility Has Key Role in Space Exploration – Past, Present and Future

By SpaceRef Editor
December 22, 2006
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When the 124th space shuttle external tank shipped from NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, La., this week, it marked another milestone in the facility’s history – beginning with the nation’s first trip to the moon and continuing as NASA further explores the moon, Mars and other destinations in our solar system.

As space shuttle work continues at Michoud, NASA is making plans to use the facility’s unique capabilities to help build the rocket and spacecraft that will replace the shuttle.

Tuesday’s external tank shipment, scheduled to launch STS-117 in spring 2007, is nothing new for Michoud. NASA’s prime contractor for the external tank, Lockheed Martin Corp., has manufactured and assembled the shuttle tank there for nearly three decades. The capability that enables it to host the tank work also positions Michoud to provide other vital support to the Vision for Space Exploration to extend a human presence throughout the solar system.

The Space Shuttle Program’s external tank is built at Michoud, and NASA recently selected Michoud as the site for the manufacture and assembly of the Ares I crew launch vehicle and Ares V cargo launch vehicle upper stages. Ares I will carry the Orion vehicle with its crew of up to six astronauts to space, beginning the capsule’s journey to the moon. Ares V is the heavy-lift vehicle, which will carry large cargo to space, including the lunar lander, for use by lunar missions.

Michoud also will support other exploration projects. Lockheed Martin, responsible for the design, development and manufacture of the Orion crew vehicle, will build large structures and composite parts for the new capsule at Michoud. In addition, Rocketplane Kistler of Oklahoma City – one of two companies selected for NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services project to develop and demonstrate crew and cargo delivery to the International Space Station – will integrate and assemble its commercial vehicle at Michoud for launch in 2008.

These NASA-led activities will ensure that the Michoud facility will be used to its maximum extent in implementing a robust national space exploration program and also will actively engage the New Orleans business community to support NASA’s exploration goals.

“These activities – for the Orion, Ares and Commercial Orbital Transportation System projects – not only prove Michoud’s standing as an asset to NASA’s mission goals,” said Patrick Scheuermann, chief operating officer at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility, “but also provide long term stability for employees, local industry and the economy of the New Orleans region as it recovers from Hurricane Katrina.”

Michoud has a long, successful history and demonstrated expertise in the manufacture and assembly of launch vehicle and propulsion systems and components supporting NASA exploration missions. Michoud’s space heritage dates back to the Apollo Program of the 1960s, when the facility was used to build the first stages of the Saturn I and V launch vehicles – part of the family of rockets used to send American astronauts to low Earth orbit and to the moon.

The facility, on 832 acres of land, includes one of the world’s largest manufacturing plants with 43 acres under one roof and a port with deep-water access – a capability providing for transportation of large space systems and hardware.

Michoud will draw on its world-class manufacturing capabilities and partnerships – including the National Center for Advanced Manufacturing (NCAM) in New Orleans – to support NASA exploration projects. Founded in 1999, NCAM is a joint undertaking among government, academia and industry to fulfill technology needs of the aerospace and commercial markets. Through this partnership, new welding and fabrication techniques will play a crucial role in development of the aeroshell, a protective shell encasing spacecraft that provides an aerodynamic surface and protection from intense temperatures during atmospheric travel; propellant tanks; and the Orion capsule. A bonding technique known as friction stir welding, first used on the shuttle external tank in 2005, produces high-strength, defect-free joint welds and can uniformly weld materials together – a vital requirement of next-generation launch vehicles and hardware that must endure long-term space travel. Composite fabrication, another innovative technology pursued by researchers, involves advanced fiber placement to strengthen construction of large, complex structures.

The Michoud Assembly Facility is a government-owned, contractor-operated component of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The Marshall Center directly employs some 7,000 civil servant and contractor employees and manages a $2.3 billion dollar budget. Marshall has a proven history of developing key space transportation and propulsion technologies for NASA space exploration missions. Today, Marshall leads development of the agency’s next-generation launch vehicles, the Ares I crew launch vehicle and Ares V cargo launch vehicle; leads the Lunar Precursor and Robotic Program effort that will pave the way back to the moon; manages the Space Shuttle Program propulsion elements and science operations on the International Space Station; and pursues scientific breakthroughs to improve life on Earth.

For more information about the Ares projects on the Web, visit:

For more information about NASA programs on the Web, visit:

SpaceRef staff editor.