NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center employees safe, returning following Michoud tornado

Redstone Arsenal

Damage to NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility. Photo: NASA/MAF/Steven Seipel

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REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. - Following the tornado that struck NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF), we're told all employees are safe. But the cleanup continues at Michoud.

Mike Kynard, Deputy Director of MAF, said none of the 5 employees who suffered minor injuries were from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center at Redstone Arsenal. But a few people from Marshall, who were at Michoud for work, did have problems because of storm damage to their rental cars.

Now, one of the main missions is to get those Marshall employees back home.

"We're working on a process to bring them back here," explained Kynard.

Marshall and Michoud have a very close relationship. MSFC actually manages MAF, and many people travel in between frequently.

"We're all like family," said Kynard. "When we go down there, it's not a separate place, it's a part of Marshall. We're looking out for our people down there."

Marshall is sending some supplies and even employees down to Michoud to assist in the storm's aftermath, including mobile radios from the IT department, a mobile command center they have to deploy when necessary, and some protective services employees.

"The main thing is the people were safe. That was the most important part," said Kynard. "That's the irreplaceable part."

Thankfully, the SLS and Orion hardware at Michoud for manufacture and assembly were not impacted much either.

"I'm pleased to say there's no damage to the hardware," said Kynard. "We did have some debris fall on top of one of the tanks, but it didn't really impact anything."

The real damage could come in the form of lost time. The facility is shut down right now while crews continue to assess building damage, and it's unclear when it will be ready for employees to come back in and work. It's difficult for Kynard to tell this early on just how much the mission will be affected.

"I think our focus is going to be to bring the facility back up where folks can come in and safely operate," said Kynard. "We'll have to go and assess how much that has impacted the core stage manufacturing, because the core stage is on a critical path for SLS. There is going to be some amount of time we are going to slip, but you never know how you can recover from that. We have some mighty, creative people working on that."

Kynard said he's hopeful the facility's necessary closure won't impact the SLS final launch date, because there still may be some things they can schedule for efficiency to make up for the lost time.

According to a NASA release, 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.

“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.”

Approximately 40 to 50 percent of the buildings at Michoud have some kind of damage; about five buildings have some form of severe damage.

We're told the team has prioritized completing the damage assessment at the site’s main manufacturing building for the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft flight hardware so power can be restored in phases and temporary protection put in place to shield hardware from any further inclement weather.