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BP oil spill manages to mess up NASA's Space Shuttle launch

The massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is preventing NASA from transporting a Space Shuttle fuel tank from Louisiana to Florida.

By Tariq MalikSPACE.com Managing Editor / May 7, 2010

Oil spill cleanup crews work along the beach in Pass Christian, Miss., Monday. The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is preventing NASA from delivering a Space Shuttle fuel tank from Louisiana to Florida.

Dave Martin/AP

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The massive oil spill plaguing the United States Gulf Coast has also thrown a wrench in NASA's plans to deliver a huge space shuttle fuel tank from Louisiana to Florida for the last launch of shuttle Discovery in September.

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The expanding oil slick has cut into the deep water route typically used by NASA barges and their tugs to haul the 15-storey space shuttle fuel tanks from their manufacturing site – the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans – to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to be attached to an orbiter for launch.

Space shuttle program manager John Shannon said Monday that NASA's recovery ship Freedom Star – one of two ships that deliver shuttle fuel tanks as well as retrieve an orbiter's twin reusable solid rocket boosters from the Atlantic Ocean after a launch – is not equipped to make the shallow-water detour around the oil spill.

IN PICTURES: Louisiana oil spill

"It's kind of stuck in Gulfport, Mississippi right now because of the oil slick," Shannon told reporters in a morning briefing. "They've had to take a different path with the barge and the Freedom Star cannot do that shallow-water course to Michoud."

The Gulf of Mexico oil spill was caused by the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig operated by British Petroleum. As of April 28, the resulting oil slick was estimated to have a circumference of about 600 miles (970 km), though the shape of the spill is irregular. The slick is enormous, and is big enough to be seen from space.