The major hurricane that’s about to hit New Orleans also has a major space shuttle facility in its sights. If this facility is destroyed it will very likely spell the end of the shuttle, and perhaps NASA’s big-budget shuttle replacement as well.

The facility is Lockheed Martin’s external tank production facility, where all of the space shuttle big orange fuel tanks are built and serviced. It was foam flying off these tanks that destroyed space shuttle Columbia two and a half years ago, and that grounded Discovery after its last flight in July.

Political support for the shuttle program is already weakening. If the tank production plant is severely damaged or destroyed, shuttle supporters may not be able to muster the support for rebuilding, especially since NASA has already spent over a billion dollars trying without success to fix these tanks. The big-budget shuttle replacement, as currently conceived, also depends on the tanks, so that might go out the window too. All of which would give small, entrepreneurial companies like t/Space a clear shot at building America’s next spaceship.

See reports from SpaceDaily and SpaceflightNow.