NASA, Boeing Celebrate Next Generation of Rocket Production at Michoud

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At a Feb. 13 event, officials cut the ribbon on a new rocket production facility at NASA Michoud Assembly Facility. (Photo by Rich Collins)

NEW ORLEANS — On Feb. 13, officials from NASA and Boeing hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new rocket production space at the NASA Michoud Assembly Facility. 

At the event, Boeing announced a $1 million grant for STEM NOLA, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing STEM education to under-served communities in New Orleans and nationwide. But the main focus of the day was the debut of a new area at Michoud dedicated to building the next generation of NASA’s Space Launch System, a “super-heavy lift capability” rocket built to carry people and cargo to deep space.

NASA said the SLS — and its new Exploration Upper Stage — will be the “most powerful rocket ever built, designed to launch large payloads farther into the solar system faster than historically possible.”

The first generation of the Space Launch System debuted successfully on Nov. 16, when the un-crewed Artemis I mission journeyed around the moon. The milestone followed years of development and a healthy dose of criticism about the development of the SLS from industry insiders and observers.

The launch — and Monday’s Michoud press conference — proved that Michoud is back in full swing as a key contributor to U.S. space exploration programs.

The site, which boasts 2.2 million square feet of covered manufacturing space under one roof, produced Saturn rockets in the early days of the country’s pace program and then external tanks for the Space Shuttle from the 1970s into the early 2000s. It was originally built during World War II to construct planes and, later, tanks for the country’s war efforts.

There are currently roughly 3,500 employees at Michoud working for NASA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and other tenants. NASA estimates that the site has a total annual economic impact of approximately $830 million.

About a decade ago, when the Space Shuttle program ended, the Michoud facility took on more outside tenants, including Hollywood studios, which filmed portions of “Jurassic World” and other movies there. But now Michoud is back to the business of building rockets — and the excitement is palpable.

“This facility has come a long way in the last decade,” John Shannon, vice president and program manager for the Space Launch System at Boeing, told the assembled crowd at Monday’s press conference. “You can see the vehicle that is going to take the first crew around the moon right behind you. The fact that it’s being built here is just an amazing thing.”

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