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In a spectacular example of an organisation lining its excuses up early, NASA is already laying the groundwork for a further delay to a March 2006 Shuttle launch. The explanation, naturally, is Hurricane Katrina.

It seems the pesky storm damaged a couple of NASA's storage facilities on the Gulf Coast: the Michoud Assembly Facility, located to the east of New Orleans and the Stennis Space Center, near Bay St. Louis.

NASA says buildings at Michoud suffered damaged roofs and have some water leaks, but nonetheless weathered the storm well, compared to nearby areas. Neither facility took heavy damage, but are likely to remain closed for the foreseeable future.

So why the delay to the launch? Well, according to The Herald, a local paper covering Bradenton, Manatee and Sarasota, four of Shuttle's newly redesigned tanks are stored at the Michoud facility.

To meet the March 2006 launch window, those tanks need to be on their way to Kennedy Space Center by the middle of November. And they would have been travelling by barge.

With the facilities closed, and the clean-up operation in the area yet to begin, it seems unlikely that the tanks will be on the move in time.

NASA's next launch window is not until May 2006. ®

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