Students explore Waterloo NASA project

By: Jason Rathjen

A group of tech savvy students got the opportunity on Wednesday, Oct. 21, to get a sneak peek at some NASA technology being made right here in the Cedar Valley as they toured Doerfer Companies of Waterloo where they were showing off their Wheelift technology. The Wheelift technology is a machine that transports massive segments of the rocket that will be sent to Mars by NASA and SpaceX in December of 2018. Doerfer also makes the machines for the Navy to aid in the construction of submarines.

The students got to see first hand what career opportunities there are in the STEM field. “We decided to host this because there are lots of opportunities in Iowa with some of our customers which are very high end like NASA,” President of Doerfer Companies Dave Takes said. “We need to get the word out to young people because we will need new talent for the future of our company with NASA. If we don’t tell them the opportunities, they won’t know about them.”

The transporters that Doerfer makes for NASA will aid in the assembly of the individual rocket segments and eventually the entire rocket for the SLS (Space Launch System), which will carry astronauts into deep space. Each transporter costs roughly $1 million for NASA. The max payload for one model is 300,000 pounds, which is much needed when NASA is constructing the “most powerful rocket in the world,” according to Senior Operations Manager for the SLS Chris Bramon. Bramon said that the rocket will be carrying approximately 70 metric tons of total payload. SLS Resident Manager Pat Whipps said, “This rocket will be taller than the Statue of Liberty, 320 feet tall.”

The students were treated to a speech by NASA astronaut Jim Kelly who said in part of his message, “The only person who can stop you from accomplishing your dreams is you.” The speech was well received by the large audience of future engineers and scientists. “I liked the astronaut speech. It was very inspirational,” senior John Wagner said.

The main reason that the students went on the trip was to get a close up view of the STEM career opportunities that exist. “I hope that the students realized that learning a lot of STEM materials in high school can lead to a lot of really exciting career opportunities,” physics teacher Kenton Swartley said. The students wrapped up the day with a ceremonial flag raising with astronaut Kelly.

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