Grand Junction firm keeps the heat off astronauts

Space shuttle pilot thanks GJ company for life-saving temperature seal

When the space shuttle bay doors swing open high above the earth, they break a seal that keeps out the searing heat of liftoff and protects the shuttle from the brittle cold of space.

That seal comes from Western Filament in Grand Junction, and on Wednesday an astronaut who four times counted on it to work thanked the employees there.

“Every one of you had a hand in keeping the shuttle safe, and that’s a huge accomplishment,” Dan Brandenstein told the Western Filament employees at the company offices, 630 Hollingsworth St. in Foresight Circle.

The seal looks much like the gasket that seals off oven doors and is itself contained within a sleeve of ceramic fiber, and Western Filament has supplied the seal since the shuttle program began, plant manager Cliff Conley said.

To offer up some idea of the vast range of temperature extremes to which the shuttle is exposed, Brandenstein remembered the 1983 launch of the shuttle at 2 a.m., the first night-time launch of the craft.

“It was kind of like being on the inside of a fireball looking out,” he told the audience.

He remained calm through liftoff and his four flights, but he remembered thinking as he piloted the shuttle in for a landing that, “This is a $2 billion airplane. Don’t louse it up.”

Now the chief operating officer for United Space Alliance, Brandenstein said he and others are looking anxiously for a decision about the future of the space program.

Six more shuttle launches are scheduled before the program ends and a new effort aimed at a manned effort to reach Mars from the moon begins. Whether the Constellation program takes off is in the hands of the Obama administration, and there have been few clues as to how the new administration will view NASA, he said.

United Space Alliance is co-owned by aviation giants Lockheed Martin and Boeing and handles 29 contracts for the program. NASA has contracts in all but four of the United States, which Brandenstein urged the Western Filament employees to remember as the future of the space program is debated.

Meeting one of the astronauts who has risked all on the product her company produces “is very cool,” Western Filament production lead Cindy Emrich said while holding a Brandenstein-signed decal for the space program.

United Space Alliance officials visit 40 of their suppliers each year, which Brandenstein said underscored the importance of the product they supply.

“We’re grateful for the great job you do,” he said. “We hope it will continue.”


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