History of MAF

MAF History

For more than half a century, NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans has been “America’s Rocket Factory,” the nation’s premiere site for manufacturing and assembly of large-scale space structures and systems. The government-owned manufacturing facility is one of the largest in the world at 829-total acres, with 43 acres of manufacturing space under one roof – a space large enough to contain more than 31 professional football fields. Michoud, managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, includes several areas within its facility that are used by commercial firms of NASA Contractors.

Having previously served both the Apollo and Space Shuttle programs, the facility has adapted to support all NASA’s human space flight missions. Today, Michoud is manufacturing and assembling the core stages for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) – the world’s most powerful rocket that will send the Orion spacecraft, astronauts, and supplies on bold explorations to the moon and beyond, the Orion spacecraft’s pressure vessel and launch abort system, and preparing to begin production on SLS’s block 1B configuration Exploration Upper Stage.


Major Events Timeline
1763 The original tract of land, located in eastern New Orleans, was part of a 34,500 acre French Royal land grant to local merchant, Gilbert Antoine de St. Maxent.
1827 The land was acquired by French transplant Antoine Michoud, the son of Napoleon’s Administrator of Domains, who moved to the city in 1827. Michoud operated a sugar cane plantation and refinery on the site until his death in 1863. His heirs continued operating the refinery and kept the original St. Maxent estate intact into the 20thcentury. Two brick smokestacks from the original refinery still stand before the Michoud facility today.
1942 New Orleans Higgins Shipbuilding Company received a contract to build 200 Liberty Ships -- the largest shipbuilding contract awarded up to that time.  Andrew J. Higgins chose the old Michoud Plantation site. Liberty Ship - 441 feet long and 56 feet wide. 2,500 hp and goes up to 11 knots. It could carry 9,000 tons of cargo, plus airplanes, tanks, and locomotives on its deck. That’s 2,840 jeeps, 440 tanks, 230M rounds rifle ammunition. Higgins claimed they would turn out 24 ships per month – 1/2 the total national output. Within 3 short months the entire facility was half completed, but the Maritime Commission unexpectedly canceled the project citing a shortage of steel.

Roosevelt met with Higgins and discussed producing wooden cargo planes or "flying boats" at Michoud. On November 6, 1942, the Army Air Corporation approved a letter of intent for 1,200 C-76 Curris Caravan plans. $30 million dollars of the $180 million contract was earmarked for the completion of Michoud's construction & tooling.

1943 War Department cancelled contracts for the C-76s citing increased aluminum production and shifted to C-46 cargo planes. Higgins claimed the right to build these too, and the Michoud Aircraft Plant was officially dedicated on October 24, 1943. Only 2 C-46 cargo planes were ever produced by Higgins Aircraft because the War Department cancelled the contract in August 1944 as it shifted its emphasis in the air war requiring more bombers & larger, long- range troop transports. Site included the “Michoud Factory Airfield.”
1951 Early in the Korean conflict, the Chrysler Corporation received a contract to manufacture tank cylinder heads at the Michoud Ordnance Plant in New Orleans, Louisiana. The facility was converted for the construction of 12-cylinder engines for Sherman and Patton tanks. Among the division’s renovation tasks was the complete dismantling and relocation of a foundry from Chicago to the plant. The division also designed, procured and installed several hundred tons of humidity-control equipment for the 47-acre structure. The pilot production line went into operation, but because of changing requirements, the plant never went into full production.
1953 The last reference to the Michoud Field in Aviation Week Airport Directory. “Military, inactive – no facilities.”
1961 With the space race with the Russians heating up, the National Aeronautics & Space Administration took over the facility (Then called the Michoud Ordinance Plant) for design & assembly of large space vehicles. The plant was assigned to Chrysler and Boeing to set up production for the first stages of Saturn I and Saturn V. NASA manufactured the first stage of the Saturn I and the first stage of the Saturn V vehicles there, but there was not room to also manufacture the second stage of the Saturn V in this plant. Water access played a role in all site selections for new Apollo facilities.
1965 MSFC Michoud Operations name officially changed to Michoud Assembly Facility. Construction of the Saturn S1B and S1C boosters continued at the Michoud facility until the early 1970s.
1970's The Apollo program wound down and work began on the Space Shuttle, the next generation launch vehicle.
1981 First External Tank was produced by Martin Marietta (now known as Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company) flew on STS-1 on April 12 and returned on April 14. Space Shuttle Columbia orbited the Earth 37 times during this 54.5 hour mission. First manned space flight since the Appollo-Soyuz Test Project in 1975.
1988 A Taca Airlines Boeing 737 [Flight 111] dead-sticked it into the grassy area on the south side of the facility, after being struck by lightning. It was stuck in the mud but luckily there were no injuries. The maintenance crew showed up the next day and swapped an engine out. It later took off from the old runway and headed for Lakefront Airport.
1996 Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company won the contract for the X-33 program, an unmanned sub-scale predecessor to what would have been a new reusable launch vehicle. The program was cancelled in 2001 at a loss of $912M to NASA and $357M to Lockheed.
2002 External Tank program was extended until 2008.
2005 During Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, a ride-out team of 37 employees risked their lives to stay on-site, to keep the generators running, to keep the pumps going, and to protect the facilities and the flight hardware that were entrusted to them. The water did not get over the levee, and the pumps were able to handle the water. Despite this outstandingly successful test of our storm protection system, NASA’s low risk mentality has brought additional federal funding to the site in the tune of about $178 million. The levees have been raised an additional 2 to 3 feet. The pump system has been upgraded to be remotely operable, and a redundant system is in the process of being constructed. Even the roofing on site has been replaced on all of the buildings. The Army Corps of Engineers is also reaching the end of their largest design build project they have ever conducted - to close off what was determined to be the primary route for the surge of water.

These employees earned NASA Exceptional Bravery Medals from the NASA Administrator of the time, Michael Griffin. Nearly all 2000 employees returned to work after 3 months, despite 600 of them having lost their homes.

US Department of Agriculture (USDA) officially agreed to locate their National Finance Center at MAF.

2006 The USCG located a temporary facility at MAF and in 2007 signed an agreement to locate a permanent facility on the site. Construction on their new $90 million facility was completed in 2010.
2009 Jacobs Technology awarded the Manufacturing Support and Facility Operations Contract (MSFOC). Due to budget constraints within NASA, the contract includes many challenges which include significant utility improvements and the attraction of commercial tenants to the site.
2010 Space Shuttle Program begins transition and retirement efforts.
2012 Lockheed Martin delivers the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle that will be used in an exploration flight test in 2014.
Present Manufacturing of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket is under way at Michoud. The initial flight of SLS is currently slated for 2021.