The workers will receive Exceptional Bravery Medals next week for their courage and dedication in protecting external fuel tanks for the space shuttle program.
The volunteer workers stayed and pumped more than one billion gallons of water out of the Michoud Assembly Facility, minimizing slowdowns of external tank production, preventing significant delays in the shuttle program, as well as preventing loss of life and government property according to a statement issued by NASA.
Winds exceeded 130 miles an hour and waves pounded down on 19-foot-levies as the storm's eye made landfall nearby, leaving most of the land around the plant flooded. A concrete roof panel fell and bounced off the side of one fuel tank. The storm shattered windows and damaged rooftops of several buildings on the 832-acre.
"The ride-out crew risked their own lives to save the facility, and many of them lost everything they owned outside our gates," Michoud's Chief Operating Officer Patrick Scheuermann said in a prepared statement.
None of the 2,000 employees were injured but 600 lost their homes. Only six percent of employees living in the area found their homes damage-free once floodwaters receded. Workers were temporarily reassigned to cope with the crisis. Others stayed in short-term housing and tried to restore the facility.
They brought the plant back online in time to receive scheduled tank shipments from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The New Orleans-area plant was fully operational nine weeks after the storm hit.
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., delivered supplied to teams trying to restore restore communications and power. Building supplies, construction tools, personal items, food, bottled water and medicine were flown in on helicopters.
When NASA administrator Michael Griffin visited the assembly plant in September, he said: "You can't buy the kind of dedication that I saw down there from our folks for any amount of money. It is not about salary or holding a job. It is about dedication to the [space shuttle] program."
Griffin will present awards Thursday, during a ceremony at the plant. Scheuermann, who is receiving an Outstanding Leadership Medal for coordinating the efforts, said he has seen the same dedication and focus on a daily basis as workers prepare tanks for the next space launch, even in the face of personal loss.