Earlier today, a series of tornadoes and severe thunderstorms bulldozed through southern Louisiana, leaving devastation in their wake. East New Orleans, which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina 12 years ago, experienced major damage as a result, including NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility. Early reports from NASA indicate 10 people have sustained minor injuries.
"We're still assessing the damage at the facility," NASA spokesperson Tracy McMahan told Gizmodo. "Several buildings have roof damage. The facility's closed, and a lot of cars have been damaged and the roads. But we have an emergency plan that we implemented perfectly."
At 11:25am CT, a tornado impacted our Michoud Facility in New Orleans. Only minor injuries reported & personnel are being accounted for (1)
— NASA (@NASA) February 7, 2017
McMahan added that at this time, flight hardware "appears undamaged", but that an emergency team is still assessing the situation. The Michoud Assembly Facility plays a critical role in manufacturing rocket parts for NASA, including portions of the Space Launch System, the gigantic rocket the space agency intends to use to propel astronauts to Mars in the 2030s, and whose first flight is scheduled for 2018. The Michoud Facility is also charged with assembling the Orion capsule, a next-generation spacecraft intended to ferry humans to orbit and beyond atop the SLS.
"[Parts for] the SLS rocket, Pegasus, and Orion do not appear damaged," McMahan said. "We'll know something a little bit more later today."
While details are still fairly thin, some grim images of the damage have emerged on social media:
— jimtaylorjr (@jimtaylorjr) February 7, 2017
Here is one of the NASA damaged buildings in Michoud. pic.twitter.com/wK7BETpAh6
— Meg Farris (@megfarrisWWL) February 7, 2017
Like many of NASA's other coastal centres, Michoud is located in an area highly prone to flooding and future sea level rise. While we don't know the full extent of the damage yet, it's not unlikely that water damage could impact the Michoud Facility as well.