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The Nation | COLUMN ONE

The Fine Art of Foam

Applying a flawless layer of chemical goo with a spray gun is no easy feat. Ask NASA's space shuttle team. Or that guy on your roof.

September 21, 2005|Alan Zarembo | Times Staff Writer

Among veteran foam sprayers, there is also a sneaking suspicion that inexperience is playing a role in the current shuttle situation.

You can learn a thing or two if you spray a few thousand roofs.

"We're processing hundreds of thousands of pounds of foam a year," says Thomas Tisthammer, a roofer in Fort Collins, Colo. "I think I could do it. You bet."

Lockheed Martin is accustomed to such bravado.

Marion LaNasa, a company spokesman, says he receives e-mail messages every day offering solutions to the foam problem.

It can be a little exasperating.

A man that LaNasa would only identify as a podiatrist recently sent a sample of foam sold in a spray can, proposing it as an alternative material.

"What we're dealing with is an incredibly complex vehicle in an unimaginable environment that cannot be duplicated on Earth," LaNasa says.

Having a roof survive a Florida hurricane or decades of Mojave Desert sun is no small feat, either, roofers point out.

Wiltshire notes that the foam on his roofs has been scientifically proven to stick to plywood in winds of 90 mph.

The shuttle reaches about 17,500 mph on liftoff.

"We never tested at that particular speed," Wiltshire concedes.

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