Vintage Space Shuttle fuel tank destroyed by New Orleans tornado

Space Launch System and Orion undamaged, all personnel accounted for

NASA Michoud tornado damage
Behind the wrecked SUV is the historical Space Shuttle tank (Image: NASA/MAF/Steven Seipel)

Video A tornado has totalled some priceless NASA artefacts.

The tornado swept through the space agency's Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans at 11:25am on February 8. Beyond NASA's facility, the tornado has damaged warehouses and the walls of a US Department of Agriculture office.

The Facility is home to projects like the next-generation Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spaceship, as well as the Pegasus barge that ferried Space Shuttle fuel tanks to Florida for launches. There's also what Spaceflight Now describes as a "one-of-a-kind" vertical welding tool needed to build the SLS core stage.

NASA says it's accounted for all 3,500 staff at the facility, five of whom suffered "minor" injuries.

"At this time, emergency personnel have identified damage to building numbers 103, 350 and additional structures. Building 103, Michoud's main manufacturing building, has roof damage in several areas. Approximately 200 parked cars were damaged, and there was damage to roads and other areas near Michoud," the NASA statement says.

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Facility director Keith Hefner added: "Our hearts go out to our employees and the people in New Orleans who have suffered from this serious storm."

The facility was also home to the first Space Shuttle external tank to ever stand on a launch pad – and that, alas, has been destroyed.

CollectSpace spotted the ruined tank in one of the tornado damage photos published by NASA.

The Michoud tank never flew – it was a test unit known as the external tank-ground vibration test article (ET-GVTA). One of the first three external tanks NASA manufactured at the facility, it never received the insulating foam coating applied to space-bound tanks.

It was subjected to vibration tests, both to help establish the bending modes of the tanks and to work out where to place the flight control systems' gyros and accelerometers. ®

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