Michoud Assembly Facility

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Michoud Assembly Facility
An aerial view of a large white building with green trees in the foreground and a blue sky in the background
Michoud Assembly Facility in 1968
Michoud Assembly Facility is located in Louisiana
Michoud Assembly Facility
Location in Louisiana
Michoud Assembly Facility is located in the US
Michoud Assembly Facility
Michoud Assembly Facility (the US)
Built 1940
Location New Orleans East
Coordinates 30°01′30″N 89°54′54″W / 30.025000°N 89.915000°W / 30.025000; -89.915000Coordinates: 30°01′30″N 89°54′54″W / 30.025000°N 89.915000°W / 30.025000; -89.915000
Industry Aeronautics
Products Rockets stages and parts
Employees 4,200
Architect Andrew Higgins[1][2][better source needed]
Buildings 4
Area 832 acres (337 ha)
Owner(s) NASA

The Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) is an 832-acre (337 ha) manufacturing complex owned by NASA in New Orleans East, a district within New Orleans, Louisiana, in the United States. Organizationally it is part of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, and is currently a multi-tenant complex[3] to allow commercial and government contractors, as well as government agencies, to use the site.

MAF is one of the largest manufacturing plants in the world with 43 environmentally controlled acres—174,000 m2 (1,870,000 sq ft)—under one roof, and it employs more than 4,200 people.[4] From September 1961 to the end of the Apollo program in December 1972 the site was utilized by Chrysler Corporation to build the first stages of the Saturn I and Saturn IB, later joined by Boeing Corporation to build the first stage of the Saturn V rockets.[5] From September 5, 1973, to September 20, 2010, the factory was used for the construction of the Space Shuttle's external fuel tanks by Martin Marietta Corporation, Denver Colorado.[6]


A large horizontal rocket with USA painted on the side inside of a manufacturing facility
First stages of Saturn V rockets being assembled at the Michoud factory in the 1960s

The facility was originally constructed in 1940 at the village of Michoud, Louisiana, by the Higgins-Tucker division of Higgins Industries under the direction of Andrew Jackson Higgins. Construction was done on behalf of the United States government for the war production during World War II of plywood C-76 cargo planes and landing craft. During the Korean War it made engines for Sherman and Patton tanks, and boasted a 5,500 foot paved runway. It came under the management of NASA in 1961, and was used for the construction of the S-IC first stage of the Saturn V rockets and the S-IB first stage of the Saturn IB rockets built by Chrysler Corporation. It is home to the first stage of the last-constructed Saturn V, SA-515, built by Chrysler Corporation and Boeing Corporation. The facility's height limitation, which was unable to allow the construction of the bigger C-8 direct Moon vehicle, was one of the major reasons why the smaller C-5 (later renamed Saturn V) was chosen instead of the originally planned Moon vehicle.

The majority of the NASA factory's history was focused on construction and production of NASA's Space Shuttle external tank (ET). Beginning with rollout of ET-1 on June 29, 1979, which flew on STS-1, 136 tanks were produced throughout the Space Shuttle program, ending with the flight-ready tank ET-122, which flew on STS-134, rolled out on September 20, 2010.[7] A single tank produced at the facility, ET-94, was not used in spaceflight and remained at Michoud as a test article.[6][8]

Hurricane Katrina

A section of eastern New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. MAF (green) is not flooded, while the surrounding neighborhoods (dark greenish brown) are extensively flooded.

The facility did not experience significant flooding during Hurricane Katrina due to a natural ridge that runs along its northwestern boundary, the levee that makes up the southern and eastern boundaries, and the work of the pump operators who stayed to protect the facility during the storm. There was wind damage and rainwater damage to several buildings. All shifts were initially canceled up to September 26, 2005, potentially setting back future Shuttle flights. All the buildings and the shuttle hardware within survived the hurricane without grave damage, but the roof of the main building was breached and debris damaged ET-122 stored inside; that tank was refurbished and later flew on the final flight of Space Shuttle Endeavour, STS-134. On September 16, 2005 NASA announced that the repairs were progressing faster than anticipated,[9] and so they would continue to use Michoud for external tank work.

On October 3, 2005, the facility officially reopened for essential personnel, though some key personnel had returned earlier. On October 31 the facility reopened to all personnel. Thirty-eight NASA and Lockheed Martin employees stayed behind during Hurricane Katrina to operate the pumping systems. The workers pumped more than one billion gallons (3,800,000 m3) of water out of the facility and probably were the reason that the rocket factory suffered very little damage. These employees were each awarded the NASA Exceptional Bravery Medal, NASA's highest bravery award.[10]

On February 7, 2017, an EF3 tornado carved a path through Orleans Parish, in which the factory is located. Two major buildings including the main manufacturing building were damaged, with multiple broken windows. 5 people were injured, and resulting repairs and other factors contributed to the delay of the first SLS launch until 2019.[11][12]

Other and future activities

The Michoud Assembly Facility also houses other organizations such as the National Finance Center operated by the United States Department of Agriculture, the United States Coast Guard, Blade Dynamics,[13] and NASA. The factory is now the location for the Space Launch System (SLS) being built by the Boeing company which will be the most powerful rocket in the history of spaceflight. It will carry the Orion spacecraft during its first launch to prove capabilities. Launch is set for early 2019.

The factory complex is open to public visitation, visitors need to sign in at the main reception and clear security.[14]

NASA planned to use the rocket factory to build the structure for several components of the cancelled Constellation program, including the Orion spacecraft, the Ares I Upper Stage, and the Ares V Core Stage. Under the Obama administration, the Constellation Program was cancelled in 2010,[15] but was replaced with SLS a year later to continue space exploration efforts.

NASA has an agreement in place to rent out a portion of the facility to Big Easy Studios, a New Orleans film studio.[16] This deal as been criticized by competing studios as violating NASA's rule that any deal with an outside entity must serve the agency's mission and must not compete with the private sector. NASA officials defend the agreement, stating that this helps to offset the cost of unused space on the facility and that their pricing is vetted by state and local economic development agencies to ensure it is not competing with the private market.[17] Portions of Ender's Game,[18] G.I. Joe: Retaliation,[19] and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes[citation needed] were filmed at NASA Michoud Assembly Facility.


TACA Flight 110 operated with a Boeing 737-300 jetliner made a successful emergency landing on a grassy levee in the Michoud grounds after power was lost in both engines during a severe thunderstorm. The aircraft was towed into the Michoud facility, where its engines were replaced. On 6 June, it took off, with a crew of two and minimal fuel, using the former runway at Michoud,[20] which had been reused as a road, Saturn Boulevard.[21] It was flown the short distance to New Orleans International Airport, where it was repaired.[20]


  1. ^ Higgins Industries
  2. ^ "Andrew Higgins - Wikipedia". En.wikipedia.org. Retrieved 2018-01-11.
  3. ^ "Jacobs Technology". Jacobs Technology. Retrieved 2018-01-11.
  4. ^ https://www.nasa.gov/centers/marshall/pdf/172203main_MAF_tenant_FS.pdf
  5. ^ Curtis Redgap. "Fly Chrysler to the Moon: the Saturn Rockets". Allpar.com. Retrieved 2014-05-14.
  6. ^ a b Dean, James. "Michoud Declares End Of External Tank Production". Florida Today. Retrieved 30 September 2010.
  7. ^ Sloss, Philip (22 September 2010). "MAF speak of their pride in returning ET-122 to the Shuttle manifest". NASASpaceFlight.com.
  8. ^ Tank ET-122 ended up being the last, even though its sequence number was lower than the total number of tanks produced, because it had been damaged during Hurricane Katrina and required repairs prior to completion.
  9. ^ "NASA Planning to Resume Work at Michoud Assembly Facility" (Press release). NASA. 2005-09-16.
  10. ^ "NASA Administrator Honors Katrina Heroes" (Press release). NASA. 2006-01-05.
  11. ^ "Workers Repair Roof Damage to NASA's Rocket Factory | NASA". Nasa.gov. 2017-02-07. Retrieved 2018-01-11.
  12. ^ Dan Billow (2017-02-08). "NASA rocket factory damaged by violent winds". Wesh.com. Retrieved 2018-01-11.
  13. ^ Blade Dynamics
  14. ^ https://mafspace.msfc.nasa.gov/visitors-maf
  15. ^ "President Obama Signs New Vision for U.S. Space Exploration Into Law". Space.com, October 11, 2010.
  16. ^ WWLTV News Archived 2014-02-21 at the Wayback Machine.
  17. ^ David Jacobs (2012-09-17). "NASA defends deal with N.O. film studio". Greater Baton Rouge Business Report. Archived from the original on 2014-05-15.
  18. ^ Jim Cheng. "Ender's Game filmed at NASA Michoud Assembly Facility" (Press release).
  19. ^ "'G.I. Joe' film crew member killed on set in New Orleans". NOLA.com. 2011-11-23.
  20. ^ a b "Emergency-shortened flight is completed". UPI. June 6, 1988. Retrieved 2 July 2018.
  21. ^ 30°00′59″N 89°55′13″W / 30.0164°N 89.9204°W / 30.0164; -89.9204 (Saturn Boulevard)

Further reading

  • Jerry E. Strahan (1998). Andrew Jackson Higgins and the Boats That Won World War II. ISBN 0807123390.
  • Jeff Foust (2005-09-06). "The hurricane and the vision". The Space Review.

External links

  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration - Michoud Assembly Facility
  • NASA Michoud
  • National Center for Advanced Manufacturing
  • "Michoud Assembly Facility". GlobalSecurity.org.
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