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NASA administrator tours Michoud as Orion program revs up

An artist's rendering of the Orion capsule, attached to a service module used for propulsion and fuel storage (NASA) An artist's rendering of the Orion capsule, attached to a service module used for propulsion and fuel storage (NASA)

In spite of federal budget cuts, NASA's deputy administrator says plans for a 2014 launch of a new spacecraft built in New Orleans are still on schedule.

Lori Garver toured the Michoud Assembly Facility Friday as hundreds of people ramp up work on the major portions of America's next generation of space vehicles.

Michoud has long been a mainstay of America's space program. And though employment there is a far cry from what it once was, things are gearing back up.

Garver, NASA's deputy administrator, saw firsthand the brand new machinery being assembled to build America's next generation of space vehicles: the Orion spacecraft and its launch vehicle, the Space Launch System.

"The vertical welding system will make the longitudinal welds that will weld panels together that will form the barrels used in liquid hydrogen tanks for the core stage on the SLS program," said Terry Berglin, a contractor at the plant.

Much of the work is being done through private industry.  The goal to develop technologies that go beyond the space industry.

2,700 people are now working at Michoud, and hundreds more will be hired over the next couple of years.

Garver also toured Building 115, the first new construction at Michoud in decades.  It will be used to assemble SLS rocket parts.

While all hands work to produce the Orion spacecraft in time for testing next year, there's also an effort to rent 400,000 square feet of space to private contractors.  

It's all designed to help NASA operate more efficiently.

"We are reducing costs to get into low Earth orbit so we can go farther, to an asteroid and on to Mars," said Garver.

New Orleans is set to play a bigger role than ever in NASA's new push into space.  

And Michoud is not just for rocket production anymore. Among the tenants are companies that build everything from high- flying drones to the Coast Guard and even a windmill company.

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