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NASA officials, former astronaut meet with local businesses

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- A former NASA astronaut was in South Bend Tuesday to thank local workers who are helping build the next generation of spacecraft for NASA.

The Orion spacecraft will send astronauts into deep space, and eventually Mars.

"It's going to be the newest, safest, most capable system that will allow us to go where humans have never been before," former astronaut Brian Duffy said.

More than a dozen companies in Indiana, including several in Saint Joseph and Marshall counties are currently playing a key role in building equipment for the Orion spacecraft, SLS rocket and the ground operations system.

“We’re welding several hundred injector posts into a very exact location. It’s quite an advanced piece of equipment,” said James Hammer, CEO Imagineering Finishing Technologies. “The critical nature of what you saw today, what it takes to go to space, there’s little margin for error so we have to teach and coach some pretty critical methods.”

According to the CEOs, this has opened up several doors locally, including increased employment.

“In our case, what we get to do is bring up the talent level, higher wages, longer employment for the workforce," said Hammer.

The local workers will be able to say they were part of history.

“We’ve been to the moon, we’re going beyond the moon, we’re going possibly to an asteroid, ultimately to Mars," Duffy said. “They’ll be able to say ‘I was part of the program that made this happen.’”

NASA crews say the spacecraft is currently going through a series of tests before it launches at more than 22000 per hour from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

To follow the Orion project and it's progress, click here.

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