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NASA Honors Michoud Workers for Bravery During Hurricane

Published by Sigurd De Keyser on Fri Jan 6, 2006 6:19 pm
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NASA Adminstrator Michael Griffin speaks beneath the tattered flag that flew over Michoud Assembly Facility during Hurricane Katrina last year. Photo Credit: NASA/MSFC David Higginbotham. NASA Administrator Michael Griffin awarded the agency’s Exceptional Bravery Medal on Thursday to workers who protected a key space shuttle facility from the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina.

“Their courage reminds us that not all of NASA’s heroes fly in space,” Griffin said during a presentation to 38 employees at the Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans, where the giant shuttle external fuel tanks are built.

Standing before approximately 800 workers and family members in a cavernous hall where completed fuel tanks are stored for shipment, Griffin praised the “ride-out crew” who “did nothing less than save America’s space program from, quite literally, being grounded for years.”

While Katrina’s winds howled and water surged around Michoud, the ride-out crew manned pumps and generators to hold the storm at bay, knowing that if the facility were lost, “NASA’s ability to conduct future space shuttle missions and to ferry vital supplies and equipment to the International Space Station would be lost,” Griffin said.

“One has only to look at this area from the air, where Michoud appears as an island of green in a sea of brown mud, to understand what this place would look like if that flooding had occurred,” he said. “There was no way to survive it; anyone who did not escape would be lost. So if the generators and pumps failed, more than just the facility was at risk. Those were the stakes for the folks who stayed behind here at Michoud.”

The medal, one of NASA’s highest honors, is given to those who demonstrate exemplary handling of an emergency and prevent loss of life and government property, while disregarding personal safety. Only 36 other individuals have received the award.

Many crew members lost homes and didn’t know the fate of their own families until days after the storm passed. But medal recipient Stephen Turner is happy to have played a role in safeguarding Michoud, which is operated by NASA contractor Lockheed Martin.

“The crew worked through many weeks of hard, recovery work under very tough conditions. I am very proud to have served with this brave team and proud of what Michoud means to this community,” he said.

Thanks to the crew’s efforts, delays in external tank processing were kept to a minimum. This was essential not only to NASA’s Space Shuttle Program, but also to the future of human space flight. Michoud’s unique manufacturing facilities figure prominently in America’s Vision for Space Exploration, since derivatives of the external tank are part of the design for the next generation spacecraft.

Nine weeks after Hurricane Katrina struck, the assembly facility was able to return to full operations. NASA’s Patrick Scheuerman, the chief operating officer at Michoud, played a critical role in that return to work effort and also in coordinating the ride-out crew’s operations before and after the storm. He also was honored Thursday with an Outstanding Leadership Medal.

NASA TV’s Media Channel “Video File” has b-roll from today’s ceremony. The news feed is broadcast on the NASA Media Channel (Program 103) at 12 p.m. (EST); with replays at 3, 6, and 10 p.m. and 12, 6, and 10 a.m. NASA TV’s Public, Education and Media channels are available on an MPEG-2 digital C-band signal accessed via satellite AMC-6, at 72 degrees west longitude, transponder 17C, 4040 MHz, vertical polarization. In Alaska and Hawaii, they’re on AMC-7 at 137 degrees west longitude, transponder 18C, at 4060 MHz, horizontal polarization. A Digital Video Broadcast compliant Integrated Receiver Decoder is required for reception. For digital downlink information for NASA TV’s Media Channel (Program 103) on the Web, visit:

For photos of the awards presentation and information on the ride-out crew’s efforts, visit:

For information about NASA’s Space Shuttle Program, visit:

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