America's Space Transportation System
Michoud Assembly Facility's involvement in the Space Shuttle program began in
1973 when Martin Marietta Corporation was awarded the contract to design and
build the External Tank (ET).
The ET is one of the shuttle's three major components, along with the Orbiter
and a pair of Solid Rocket Boosters. The tank serves two roles during a
shuttle launch - as the structural "backbone" and as the fuel tank for the
Orbiter's three main engines. The ET also is the shuttle's only non-reusable
major equipment: 8 1/2 minutes after liftoff the ET is separated from the
Orbiter and burns up during re-entry into the earth's atmosphere, with a few
pieces falling into a remote ocean area.
The External Tank is 154 feet long (about one-half the length of a football
field) and nearly 28 feet in diameter, and is comprised of three major
liquid hydrogen tank, liquid oxygen tank, and connecting intertank. The ET is
constructed primarily of an aluminum alloy, utilizing computerized welding
technology, and is covered with a brown spray-on insulating foam. Each tank
weighs 66,000 pounds empty but more than 1.6 million pounds when filled on the
launch pad with super-cold liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen.
The ET is built in the Michoud Assembly Facility's largest building (43 acres
under one roof), directly behind this sign. Upon completion, each ET is
barged from the facility's harbor to NASA's Kennedy Space Center on the east
coast of Florida.
The first Space Shuttle launch was conducted on April 12, 1981.
Man on the Moon
The Michoud Assembly Facility, a part of NASA since 1961, is managed by NASA's
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama.
The facility played a major role in the Apollo program as the production site
for the Saturn IB and Saturn V first-stage boosters. To your left is a flight
model of the Saturn V's S-IC booster, 138 feet long and 33 feet in diameter.
The first manned lunar landing mission, Apollo 11, was launched by a Saturn V.
Apollo 11's Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin successfully landed on the moon on
July 20, 1969. A total of six Apollo crews visited the moon, concluding with
the Apollo 17 mission in December 1972.
To the right of the Saturn V booster is a monument and grove of seven trees
commemorating the Challenger Astronauts who died in the Space Shuttle launch
accident on January 28, 1986. The crew members were Francis Scobee, Michael
Smith, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Gregory Jarvis, and
teacher-in-space Christa McAuliffe.