World’s Fastest Rocket Being Built In NOLA’s Backyard

NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility
NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) is a powerful, advanced launch vehicle for a new era of human exploration beyond Earth’s orbit. With its unprecedented power and capabilities, SLS will launch crews of up to four astronauts in the agency’s Orion spacecraft on missions to explore multiple, deep-space destinations.


“If you want to go up into orbit, you have to go through New Orleans,” said Michael Hecht, GNO, Inc.president and CEO, at the regional economic development alliance’s “Mission to the Moon & Beyond: Exploring the Aerospace Industry in Greater New Orleans.” The Friday, July 19, celestial conference focused on man returning to the moon, voyaging to Mars and the local stars who are manufacturing the world’s fastest rocket in New Orleans East.

Reps said the standing-room only event, at GNO, Inc.’s conference room at 1100 Poydras St., celebrated the “renaissance of space launch investment,” fueled by the leadership of President Donald Trump’s administration, and commemorated the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s lunar landing when the late astronaut Neil Armstrong declared, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” when taking his first steps on the moon on July 20, 1969.

“The goal is to put the first woman and the next man on the moon in 2024,” said Robert Champion, director of NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility(MAF), located at 13800 Old Gentilly Rd. “All of U.S. manned space travel goes through New Orleans…. We plan to master the harsh environment on the moon before we go to Mars.”

The 832-acre MAF is owned by NASA, is managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and is home to one of Earth’s largest indoor manufacturing facilities with approximately 43 acres of climate-controlled space. In Louisiana and Mississippi, it supports more than 5,000 jobs, generates $630 million in economic impact and sources $116 million in government contracts.

For 55 years MAF has been building big bang vehicles and components for the nation’s space program from Apollo to the Space Shuttle, and today it’s creating two propulsion modules for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) which will carry the Orion spacecraft and its crew farther into space than ever before.

“The Space Shuttle flew 17,500 miles an hour,” said Champion. “The SLS rocket will fly faster than 24,000 miles per hour. We’ve hit Mach 32.”

NASA reports the under construction SLS will stand 322 feet tall and carry 26 tons of cargo to the moon. The SLS will also produce 8.8 million pounds of maximum thrust during liftoff and ascent. That’s 13 percent more thrust at launch than the Space Shuttle and 15 percent more than the Saturn V.

Boeingthat employees more than 650 in Louisiana with the majority working in space exploration at the MAF, is building the core stage and upper stage of the SLS. Jennifer Boland-Masterson, director of Boeing Michoud Assembly Facility Operations, said the work taking place in Louisiana is “very crucial to the process” in manufacturing the most powerful rocket in galactic history that will provide a heavy lift capability to launch larger payloads faster and further into the solar system.

“Saturn V can’t get to Mars,” she said. “But the SLS can. That’s why this progress is so critical.”

Boland-Masterson said they are planning an uncrewed test flight to the moon in 2021, the Artemis manned moon landing in 2024 and then onwards with a mission to Mars in the 2030s.

To help the SLS get to its destinations, Nunez Community College in Chalmette is launching careers in aerospace manufacturing technology by accelerating pathways to earn a new certificate of technical studies, a new technical diploma and a new associate of applied science degree.

Louisiana Economic Development and the Louisiana Community and Technical College System dedicated $1 million to initiate momentum, and local companies partnered with Nunez to develop the curriculum, the first of its kind in Louisiana.

Students will receive classroom instruction, hands-on training using the latest equipment and focus on careers in aerospace welding, assembly, operations, and engineering and test technology. Graduates will receive SpaceTEC and CertTEC certification and be prepared to work for Boeing and similar companies in the region.

“For about $4,500 in tuition, our students will get the best return on their investment because the average yearly income for these aerospace manufacturing technology jobs is more than $65,000,” said Dr. Tina Tinney, chancellor of Nunez Community College. “When it’s done, with the help of our graduates, I want to see a Nunez bumper sticker on the SLS when it launches into space.”


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