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Back in Business


Back in Business


The steady hum of oversized sewing machines is finally returning to the 
building where a team of dedicated employees pieces together the space 
shuttle's protective skin.

A sewing machine inside the refurbished TPSFOn Sept. 4, 2004, Hurricane 
Frances struck NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. As the wind 
whipped around and rain fell in drenching sheets, several facilities 
sustained varying degrees of damage. But the storm dealt an especially 
heavy blow to the Thermal Protection System Facility.

The shuttle's thermal protection system comprises heat-resistant tiles, 
gap fillers and insulating blankets. This complex network protects each 
orbiter from the intense heat of launch and reentry, as well as the 
extreme cold of space. These delicate, life-saving components are 
manufactured and repaired inside the two-story, 44,000-square-foot building.

Tiles and related raw materials are made on the facility's ground level, 
which experienced water intrusion during the storm. Although some of the 
offices flooded, tile machining, coating and firing equipment weren't 
harmed and manufacturing operations continued. But on the second floor, 
where the exterior and interior thermal blankets and gap fillers are 
manufactured, damage was extensive. The rain poured in after 65 percent 
of the roof was blown away by high winds, rendering the entire level 

With the first return-to-flight mission approaching, there was no time 
to lose. Vital equipment, including the specialized sewing machines, was 
quickly relocated to the Reusable Launch Vehicle hangar at the nearby 
Shuttle Landing Facility. Inside, normal work continued, with no impact 
to the launch date.

On Nov. 19, 2005, more than a year after the storm struck, employees 
worked together to return all the equipment -- along with personnel 
necessities such as furniture, computers and telephones -- back to the 
Thermal Protection System Facility's second floor, as well as the 
Materials Service Center on the first floor.

Moving back was a huge, carefully choreographed undertaking, according 
to United Space Alliance employee Martin Wilson, the facility's manager. 
Huge rooms that sat empty less than a week ago had to be filled and 

"It went remarkably smoothly," Wilson says. "We knew moving back would 
be a lot simpler than moving out. Still, it was about 40 to 50 tons of 
equipment, furniture and racks. But everyone had an independent role; 
everyone showed up and we just had a great day."

He's quick to point out that with everything back in place, work has 
already resumed in the refurbished facility.

"In fact, we're shipping parts this afternoon."

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