NASA: The road to Mars passes through Indiana

Sep 20, 2017


Former astronaut Brian Duffy addresses MTI and Imagineering employees during Tuesday's panel.
Credit Barbara Anguiano / WVPE


NASA and other major aerospace representatives celebrated South Bend’s role in supplying specialized parts for spacecraft with a presentation and panel discussion at Manufacturing Technologies Inc., or MTI. The city is one of 12 in Indiana that manufactures parts for the space program.  

Former astronaut Brian Duffy said he’s depended on parts made in South Bend a few times.


“On my four flights I have more than 100 minutes of riding their critical engine components, and I’m happy to say it’s worked every time,” he said.


Stickers and promotional material for major projects were handed out at the event. Aerospace and NASA reps say it's small companies like MTI and Imagineering that really push major programs ahead.
Credit Barbara Anguiano / WVPE


In South Bend specifically, MTI welds parts for engines, while Imagineering Finishing Technologies supplies many parts for one of NASA’s current projects, the Orion spacecraft.. Scientists hope Orion will allow astronauts to explore celestial bodies, such as asteroids and even Mars.


“You know, the road to Mars passes through South Bend, it passes through Indiana and they should be very proud of what they’re doing, we couldn’t get there without them,” Duffy said.


The parts made in Indiana, and across the country, come to NASA through a kind of relay operation. Lockheed Martin, NASA’s primary contractor, hires subcontractors, in this case Aerojet Rocketdyne, who then facilitates engine construction by ordering parts from places like MTI.


Engine program manager for Aerojet,  Dan Adamski said engine parts require very precise welding, which can be found at MTI.


“This engine is critical, it’s actually one of the first things that we need to make. And without this component, there is no explosion, there is no thrust, there is no power to the rocket itself,” Adamski said.


NASA’s Annette Hasbrook said it’s important to the program and to the country to have smaller companies, like Imagineering and MTI involved in the space program.


“To me, it’s a diversification of skills,” she said, “When you put everything in one place and it’s the only place that does that business, they’ll be rockstars at it, but we may end up getting a singular mentality. When you have skills spread across the nation, people are thinking, ‘well what about doing it this way’ or ‘have you thought about’ and it brings a freshness to the processes and the thought processes and I think that’s good. ”


Mayor Pete Buttigieg who was present at the event, said the take away from events like this is that the economy in South Bend is growing.


He said manufacturing is a South Bend tradition and in order to move the economy forward, you have to fuel manufacturing.


“There’s a false choice some people see. The false choice is between manufacturing, making things, and working in high tech fields,” Buttigieg said, “This is an example of how a very, very high tech economy involves manufacturing. This is very advanced manufacturing that only certain people in the world can do. Some of those people are here in South Bend.”


Buttigieg said companies like MTI and Imagineering are a good example of how to move that manufacturing tradition into the 21st century.