Aerojet employees and alumni cooled off with ice cream and basked in their success — as well as the hot sun — at its Redmond campus July 8, as former astronaut Mike McCulley and other representatives of the United Space Alliance (USA) presented the company with the prestigious Space Flight Awareness Supplier Award.
USA has granted only 21 of these awards in the last decade, drawing from a pool of more than 2,000 suppliers in the aerospace industry. The honor is reserved for companies that consistently provide outstanding performance in support of NASA’s human space flight program. Aerojet has been actively involved in every step of the Space Shuttle program. The company manufactures the Orbital Maneuvering System engines and the Reaction Control System thrusters that have flown on every shuttle mission since 1981, as well as the gas generators supporting the Auxiliary Power Units on both the Orbiter and the Solid Rocket Boosters.
Scott Neish, a retired general manager and president of Aerojet, said the company is fortunate to be in Redmond because of the “access to the caliber of employees we need — a good, high-tech area, with Microsoft, Boeing and University of Washington (UW) here.”
Thirty to 40 percent of Aerojet’s 425 workers in Redmond have technical, engineering or mathematics backgrounds, but the company employs “many different disciplines, a sizable skilled workforce and administrative staff,” Neish noted.
Julie Van Kleeck, Aerojet’s vice-president of space and launch systems, said the company is “heavily involved in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education. We bring in interns from colleges, do a lot of outreach to UW and our employees do a lot of outreach to elementary schools. A lot of people in our industry are nearing retirement. We’re building the next generation.”
Aerojet also gives out four local high school scholarships each year, including one for a Redmond High School student.
Representatives from the offices of Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and Congressmen Jay Inslee and Norm Dicks read letters of congratulations at the Space Flight Awareness Supplier Award ceremony.
But the biggest thrill for attendees seemed to be a speech from Mike McCulley, a former USA CEO as well as astronaut, about “what it was like to fly in space” — using shuttle equipment built right here in Redmond.
“Only 500 of us in the world have had the opportunity to fly in space,” McCulley mused. “People ask me on a regular basis, ‘What was it like?'”
He animatedly described “the gettin’ there, the rocket ride … the bein’ there and the comin’ back.”
The fully fueled shuttle “weighs 4.5 million pounds and takes off with 7 million pounds of push,” he said.
“It’s a shake, rattle and roll rocket ride,” he said, laughing and drawing cheers from the Aerojet workers.
“It’s a eight-and-a-half minute ride, 25,000 feet a second, ten times faster than a speeding bullet, a tremendous amount of energy. I did it 20 years ago and will never forget one second of the ride,” McCulley reminisced.
“Then the engines quit, there’s no noise, you’re floating. That’s the bein’ there,” McCulley continued.
“The most striking memory is looking out the window. At 18,000 miles an hour, you see 16 sunrises and 16 sunsets in 24 hours. … Seeing the Northern Lights from the top and the bottom. … The fuzzy blue line around Earth is our atmosphere. Astronauts come back with a renewed sense of stewardship, how precious this Earth really is. … I wish everybody here could fly in space. Maybe someday you will,” said McCulley.
“And I’m so thankful to you because your parts worked perfectly,” he told the Aerojet crowd.
Van Kleeck stated, “We are extremely honored to receive this award. From the Apollo days through today, we are proud to play a huge rule in the advancement of space.”
To learn more about the United Space Alliance, visit www.unitedspacealliance.com.
For information about Aerojet, visit www.Aerojet.com.