‘Shooting to the stars’
NASA reps visit Weldall to thank company for contract work

By Katherine Michalets - Freeman Staff

Dec. 11, 2015

Retired astronaut Don Thomas speaks to employees and subcontractors of Weldall in front of huge test stands being constructed for the ground testing of the new Space Launch System, a rocket that could take astronauts to Mars.
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

WAUKESHA - The United States is getting ready to send astronauts to Mars and Weldall in Waukesha is helping NASA do just that by creating hardware for the Space Launch System. NASA representatives, including a retired astronaut, visited Weldall on Wednesday morning to thank the employees for their hard work on creating parts for the SLS stand.

“Your work is valuable on NASA’s journey to Mars,” said Tim Flores, SLS stages integration manager.

See video of retired astronaut Don Thomas talking about recent discoveries on Mars during his visit to Weldall. http://bit.ly/WKAweldall

Dave Bahl Jr., whose father is CEO and president of Weldall, said the company came up with the idea of procuring government contracts about two to three years ago, although the thought at first was contracting with the Department of Defense or other entities.

“Never in my wildest imagination would I have thought we’d have a working relationship with NASA,” Bahl said.

A portion of one of the test stands being built at Weldall for use in testing the new NASA Space Launch System that could take astronauts to Mars.
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

It isn’t often that the customer thanks the company for fulfilling its contract as NASA did Wednesday, Bahl said.

He said NASA visited Weldall in order to “honor and thank you for all that you have done to make this project a success.”

Recently, Weldall delivered hardware to the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The massive components will be used to assemble the stand for the SLS. Testing of the SLS components is already underway.

Plant manager Dave Bahl, Jr. talks with representatives of NASA during a tour of Weldall on Wednesday.
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

Flores said NASA’s success with the SLS and the mission to Mars is also the success of the employees at Weldall.

Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch spoke at the presentation Wednesday and promoted how the state has a growing aerospace and aviation industry.

“Wisconsin and Weldall are truly shooting to the stars,” she said.

The highlight of the presentation was retired NASA astronaut Don Thomas, who may have not been to the stars, he did go on four missions for a total of 44 days in space and 692 orbits around Earth.

He said the two biggest highlights for him, as well as other astronauts, is getting to look at Earth from space and meeting the contractors who helped build the space craft.

“I wouldn’t be here safe and sound if contractors didn’t do good work,” Thomas said.

A native of Cleveland, Thomas said his heroes growing up were Neil Armstrong and John Glenn, but when he became an astronaut, his heroes became the people who made the equipment that permitted space travel.

This rendering shows an aerial view of the liftoff of the 70-metric-ton (77-ton) lift capacity configuration SLS from the launchpad.
NASA graphic

While waiting to be launched into space, Thomas said, he thought of the people who made the shuttle.

“I think of each and every one of you,” Thomas said. “It’s the best people in the world. That’s what you have here at Weldall.”

Thomas shared his experiences of being up in space on the Columbia and Explorer. He also looked to the future when humans will explore Mars.

In 2018 to 2019, Thomas said, the first SLS mission beyond the moon will likely take place. After that, getting to Mars will become more feasible.

Steel is rising for two towers that will compose a 215-foot-tall structural test stand for NASA's Space Launch System at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Weldall fabricated fixtures for the base and top sections of the structure.
NASA photo

When asked by a Weldall employee how long it takes to get to Mars, Thomas said it will require about four to six months to get there and the same time to return. Once astronauts land on Mars, they will need to stay there for about two years until the planets line up correctly for the return flight.

For Ray Shaughnessy, assistant director of the test laboratory at Marshall Space Flight Center, it was great to experience firsthand the process Weldall takes to make the hardware that will be used by NASA.

He stressed to Weldall’s employees that their work is important to the nation’s future.

Eventually what is assembled at Marshall Space Flight Center will be taken to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the launch of the SLS.


Email: kmichalets@conleynet.com