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McDonnell Douglas Workers Walking on Air After Announcement of Space Station Victory

December 02, 1987|DAVID OLMOS | Times Staff Writer

The makeshift cardboard sign inside Chili's Grill & Bar in Huntington Beach said it all: "Space Station Victory Party!"

By midafternoon Tuesday, the sign was nearly covered with autographs and messages such as "We're No. 1" and "Cheers!" scribbled by employees of McDonnell Douglas Astronautics Co.

Scores of workers crowded into Chili's to celebrate the news that a multicompany team led by McDonnell Douglas had been selected by NASA to build a major portion of the first permanent U.S. outpost in space.

"I really don't have the words to express myself!" McDonnell Douglas executive Cal Lindquist said, raising his voice so he could be heard above a loud toast: "To the space station!"

'New Frontier'

"You're on the ground floor of a whole new frontier," Lindquist said.

"Most of us are still floating around in zero 'G' (gravity)," said Robert F. Thompson, vice president and general manager of McDonnell Douglas' space station division in Huntington Beach, at a press conference earlier in the day.

The contract, valued by NASA at $1.9 billion, will give McDonnell Douglas a major role in the first new manned space program since the original space shuttle project began a decade ago. McDonnell Douglas won the award over a team led by Rockwell International's space station group in Downey.

McDonnell Douglas is building a major portion of the space station known as "work package two." The package involves developing the framework, propulsion, navigation, communication and two air locks for the station.

McDonnell Douglas will complete roughly half the space station work in Huntington Beach, including all manufacturing.

1,000 New Jobs

During the next three years, the company will add 1,000 to 1,300 employees to its current Huntington Beach work force of more than 7,000. The company plans to build several buildings and lease more office space in Huntington Beach for the project, officials said.

"The impact on Orange County will be here for many years to come," said Thompson, who wore a space station tie clasp and flashed a thumbs-up sign to colleagues during the briefing.

McDonnell Douglas will receive roughly $1 billion in revenue during the next 10 years. The balance would be divided among the other companies in the team, including IBM, Lockheed, RCA, Honeywell and Astro Aerospace.

At its peak in fiscal 1990, the program could generate up to $400 million in annual revenue for the McDonnell Douglas team members.

Winning the contract is especially sweet for McDonnell Douglas, which has been working on space station designs for more than 25 years.

"We have hundreds of ideas we've accumulated through the years," said Dave Wensley, a McDonnell Douglas vice president who has worked on space station concepts off and on since 1960. "The chance to bring these ideas into realization is a great opportunity."

Wensley, who was celebrating with his co-workers at Chili's restaurant, was one of many McDonnell Douglas space station division employees who reported to work early Tuesday morning in anticipation of NASA's announcement.

'Waiting for Word'

"By 6:30 this morning, about 90% of the space station staff was in the office hallways waiting for word," Lindquist said. At about 8 a.m., the good news was relayed in a phone call to Thompson's office from McDonnell Douglas Astronautics President John F. Yardley at corporate headquarters in St. Louis.

"It was the loudest cheer you ever heard," Lindquist said. "We've been working seven days a week and very long hours. We've been like a family."

Thompson said he received a congratulatory phone call from Seymour Z. Rubenstein, president of Rockwell's space station division.

"He was very gracious," Thompson said. "I told him I knew that was a tough phone call to make."

Rockwell employs about 600 people at its Downey space station division. A Rockwell spokesman said Tuesday the company will try to transfer those workers to other divisions.

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