On June 30, Project Habu was honored to take a tour of the NASA Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana, which is not typically something that is open to the public. I started my journey by entering the badging office and getting my credentials. The first photo shows a plaque in front of the badging office.
Nearly all the S-IC first stages of the Saturn V rocket were manufactured at Michoud. Photo two shows the Apollo Dock, which was used for loading the enormous rocket stage onto a barge. The barge would transport the rocket to Stennis Space Center for static testing on the B1/B2 test stand, shown in a previous post (click here to view). Then, the stage would be barged to Kennedy Space Center, and assembled along with the rest of the rocket in the Vehicle Assembly Building. Most recently, the Apollo Dock was used as a storage place for the Deep Horizon blowout preventer, which malfunctioned and was partly to blame for the 2012 BP oil spill disaster. The blowout preventer made landfall on this dock, and was examined by countless lawyers for weeks.
The Shuttle External Tanks were manufactured at Michoud, and had to be loaded on their barges via the External Tank Dock, shown in the third photo. This dock is larger than the Apollo Dock, but does not bear as much weight, because the External Tanks were much lighter than the S-IC first stage. The External Tanks were loaded on NASA’s Pegasus Barge, transported by commercial tugs to Gulfport, Mississippi, (which is where I happened to live for the last year). At Gulfport, the Pegasus Barge would be handed over to one of NASA’s SRB recovery ships, Freedom Star or Liberty Star, and transported to Kennedy Space Center to prepare for launch.
Photos four and five display the Space Shuttle Liquid Hydrogen Tank Pneumatic Testing facility. In this building, technicians would pressurize a shuttle Liquid Hydrogen Tank, and submit it to static loads for 16 hours. During this test, technicians were forced to stay inside a bunker, shown in photo five, to protect them from a catastrophic failure (i.e. kaboom). The building, shown in photo four, was constructed to separate in panel sections in case of an explosion. This would prevent dangerous shrapnel from traveling across the facility, and into New Orleans. Of course, this never happened; however, this building did suffer major damage during Hurricane Katrina, because of this construction.
On May 24, 1988, TACA Airlines Flight 110 was just starting its descent into New Orleans, from Belize, when the 737-300 hit unexpected thunderstorms and hail up to 1” in diameter. The aircraft throttled to idle to descend, which allowed hail to build up in the core of the engine. Then the melting ice exceeded the water ingestion limit for the CFM-56 engines, causing both engines to stop. A windmill restart was attempted, but a hot start occurred, and both engines overheated, permanently shutting down. Captain Carlos Dardano saved the 45 souls aboard, slipping into a perfect deadstick landing in the grassy meadow shown in the sixth photo. This was the first time a 737 performed a safe deadstick landing outside of an airport.
The decision was made to fly the aircraft off of the property using the former Michoud Factory Airfield runway, which had been converted to a road, shown in the seventh photo. The right engine was replaced, and the left engine was overhauled. The aircraft was gutted to reduce weight, and minimally fueled. Test pilots brought her into the air, and landed at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. This accident led to modifications in the CFM-56 engine design, improving hail deflection, and water bleed time. The aircraft involved in the emergency was back in service in less than a month.
Photo eight displays scaffolding used with Shuttle External Tank construction.
The building in the final photo was used for F-1 engine cold flow testing, and is now used for structural testing for the Orion Capsule hull, which is built at this facility.