The Pegasus barge that ferried the Space Shuttle external fuel tanks from New Orleans to the Kennedy Space Center is getting a new mission as part of NASA’s efforts to send humans to deep space.

An $8.5 million contract to refurbish the barge has been awarded to Conrad Shipyard LLC, of Morgan City. The barge will be used to transport rocket components for NASA’s next-generation Space Launch System between manufacturing, testing and launch locations. That will include ferrying components from the New Orleans Michoud facility to the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and the Kennedy Space Center launch site in Florida — much as Pegasus did with the tanks in the Space Shuttle era.

The Michoud facility is where NASA contractors are producing the Space Launch System’s 70-ton heavy-lift rocket that will help propel astronauts beyond Earth’s orbit for deep-space missions, as well as the Orion module that will hold a crew of up to four people. Separately, the Dream Chaser, a space plane that will look like a little brother to the familiar shuttle, is under development at Michoud.

“Pegasus made it possible for NASA to deliver numerous groundbreaking science missions to orbit and complete construction of the International Space Station,” said Robert Rutherford, group lead for the Transportation and Logistics Engineering Office at Marshall Space Flight Center, which maintains the barge for NASA. “It’s incredibly rewarding to know Pegasus will carry on its long tradition of service, supporting the nation’s missions in space.”

NASA is collaborating in the barge’s return to service with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Marine Design Center in Philadelphia, which made the contract award to Conrad Shipyard on Wednesday. Conrad will tow Pegasus to its shipyard in Amelia, where it will be drydocked during repair-refit operations. Work is expected to be completed in early 2015, readying Pegasus to set sail again.

The Pegasus — 260 feet long, 50 feet wide and 15 feet high — has been housed at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, since 2011, when it completed its final shuttle-related operation. During that mission, it delivered shuttle main engine ground support equipment to Stennis from Kennedy Space Center.

Previously, the barge sailed between NASA’s Michoud facility in New Orleans, where the space shuttle external tanks were manufactured, and Kennedy, home to space shuttle launch operations for 30 years. Kennedy also is the launch site for the Space Launch System’s missions to future destinations, including an asteroid and Mars.

Pegasus was specially designed and built for that 900-mile journey from the Louisiana shore to the eastern Florida coast, which includes both inland and open-ocean waterways. It made the trip 41 times between 1999 and 2011, delivering 31 external tanks.

Pegasus was built to replace NASA’s aging Poseidon and Orion barges — both constructed in the 1940s to serve in World War II and converted in the 1960s for NASA’s Apollo program. In 2002, Pegasus became the sole means of transport for the shuttle external tanks. Today, it’s the only barge of its kind in NASA’s inventory.

Conrad Shipyard will be lengthening the barge from 260 feet to 310 feet so it can handle Space Launch System hardware and components, which are dramatically larger than space shuttle propulsion systems. The company also will perform maintenance and refurbishment to ensure the restored vessel meets American Bureau of Shipping standards.