Michoud Workers Feel Sadness, Responsibility For Space Shuttle Loss

A year ago the world stood in shock. Monday, NASA and Lockheed Martin workers stood in silence to remember the crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia.

The Michoud Plant in New Orleans East is the place where the shuttles external tanks are assembled and tested. Columbia Investigations show a broken piece of foam from the tank ripped a hole in the shuttle's wing causing the deadly accident.

"Please join me in honoring the Columbia Crew," Lockheed Martin Executive Marion LaNasa said.

Workers at the Michoud Plant observed a moment of silence as the names of the seven crew members were read. As the echo of a ceremonial bell filled the quiet assembling plant. It was a time to reflect and remember those who lost their lives exploring space.

"As I've reflected over the past couple of weeks, my emotions have just been all over the board. I've felt very sad. I've felt responsible. I have felt guilty. But most of all, I've felt a renewed spirit," NASA's Project Manager for Michoud, Sandy Coleman, said.

In listening to the speakers at Michoud, you got the sense they hold themselves responsible for the tragedy.

"We take a lot of pride in our work. We feel very disappointed that part of the foam that came off the ET was responsible for the accident, and we're more than determined to make sure things of that nature do not occur again," Michoud Staff Engineer Dilip Dudgaonkar said.

For the past 22 years, the Space Shuttles have carried nearly 700 Astronauts into space. Officials say each and every one of those crew members have toured the Louisiana facility.

"All of these crew members have been out to our facility. We have met with them, we have talked to them. We know who they are and they know who we are and they rely on us. When there is a failure, no matter how or why it happened, we feel it deeply," LaNasa said.

He says as workers remember the losses, they are focusing on the future and the return to flight.

"There is a number of activities we're going through right now to make sure the external tank is more reliable in the future than ever before. Any way we can reduce debris that might come off the external tank, we're doing that. There are a number of areas we're looking at. We're making a lot of progress."

Stennis Space Center is giving you a chance to help create a tribute to the Columbia crew the crew of the Challenger and for the Apollo 1 mission. Stennis has commissioned Bay St. Louis artist Elizabeth Veglia to create a mosaic mural. Visitors can help place some of the more than 10,000 tile pieces that will make up the mural.

Now through Saturday February 7th, people who go to StenniSphere can help with the project between 11 am and 1 PM each day. Once complete, the mural will be on display in the lobby of StenniSphere.

by Al Showers