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.
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.
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.
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.
It isn’t often that the customer thanks the
company for fulfilling its contract as NASA did Wednesday, Bahl
He said NASA visited Weldall in order to “honor
and thank you for all that you have done to make this project a
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.
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.
rendering shows an aerial view of the liftoff of the
70-metric-ton (77-ton) lift capacity configuration SLS from
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
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
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.