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Volume 46 | Issue 5 | June 2004

People & Places

photo: Mate/Demate
The Mate/Demate Device is in the midst of the most extensive overhaul of its 28-year history. As part of the effort, lead-based paint will be replaced with a fresh coat of nontoxic paint. The project is progressing safely and with respect for the environment. In fact, a team of contractors and NASA personnel collaborated to develop a method for disposing of 240 tons of lead-based paint being removed from the structure by recycling it into commercial cement rather than sending it to a landfill as hazardous waste. The project is expected to wrap up this summer. The MDD has been modified as the needs of the Space Shuttle program changed, requiring welds, concrete and additional work platforms and greater lift capability.
NASA Photo / Tony Landis

Mate/Demate device enters a new era

By Jay Levine
X-Press Editor

That huge, white 12-mil polyethylene plastic tent engulfing Dryden's Space Shuttle Mate/Demate Device (MDD) is cover for the most extensive and dramatic overhaul of the device since it was built 28 years ago.

One of just two such devices - the other is located at Kennedy Space Center, Fla. - the MDD is used to mount the Space Shuttle atop the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. The refurbishment project, in which old, lead-based paint will be replaced with a fresh coat of nontoxic paint, is progressing safely and with respect for the environment, said Joe D'Agostino, Dryden's Space Shuttle manager. In fact, a team of contractors and NASA personnel collaborated to develop a method for disposing of 240 tons of lead-based paint being removed from the structure by recycling it into commercial cement rather sending it to a landfill as hazardous waste.

What started out as one of the world's largest Erector sets became a permanent structure at Dryden as the needs of the Space Shuttle program changed and required welds, concrete and additional work platforms and heavier lift capability, D'Agostino said. Modifications since the MDD's completion in 1976 have cemented the device into Dryden history - physically and metaphorically.

The refurbishment project was first considered about two and a half years ago when Shuttle facilities projects were inspected and the work prioritized. The MDD has not been repainted since it was first built, although it has been retouched, and the $2 million new paint job was about halfway down a list of 200 Shuttle facility projects when it was approved last year.

Replacement value of the MDD is estimated at $9 million, D'Agustino said. Work began in December 2003 and is expected to be complete this summer.

In developing the contract for the MDD work, D'Agostino said he sought a team approach. Lance Dykhoff, Lockheed's Dryden site manager, said with a job as high profile as the Mate/Demate Device lead abatement, he called experienced Lockheed Martin program manager Lou Pustka to assemble the team.

From there, specifications were developed and five bids were returned to Lockheed, which holds the contract for Dryden Shuttle operations. Lockheed chose Anaheim-based Techno Coatings as its partner. TCI won with a team proposal that mixed Lockheed onsite personnel's expertise with their company's corporate knowledge and resources.

photo: The NASA-contractor team leading the Mate/Demate Device refurbishment project.
The NASA-contractor team leading the Mate/Demate Device refurbishment project includes, from left, Cliff Hampton, Techno Coatings project manager; Lance Dykoff, Lockheed's Dryden site manager; Lou Pustka, Lockheed project manager; and Dryden Space Shuttle manager Joe D'Agostino.
NASA Photo / Tony Landis

Once on board, Techno Coatings initiated tests to determine whether additives to blast material used in removing the old paint would mitigate its lead content, said Cliff Hampton, Techno Coatings project manager. Hampton explained that a sample tested using the proposed additives proved that the waste product could be recycled.

Without the additive, the lead-based paint would become a huge quantity of hazardous waste material that Dryden would be saddled with managing, at considerable cost, for years to come. NASA was offered and accepted a contract amendment that, in addition to providing a faster way to complete the work, would eliminate the costs, responsibility and hassles associated with long-term handling of hazardous waste.

A blast medium called Blastox mitigates the lead in paint, Hampton explained. The U.S. Navy confirmed in 1993 that Blastox worked on lead and two years later it was approved for use in U.S. Department of Defense projects. The abatement of lead, chromium and cadmium paint with the use of additives in abrasive media is a new twist on the Dryden facility.

"This was a business-like practice where we encouraged contractors to go back and do better than government standards," said D'Agostino.

When Blastox is shipped to Dryden for another portion of the paint removal process, the used medium is picked up in the shipment's original shipping containers. The material is then taken back to Kleen Industrial Service's San Diego facility, where it is filtered to remove debris, and transferred to California Portland Cement, which uses the material in the Portland cement manufacturing process.

The same process that removes the paint also prepares the surface for a new coat.

The inorganic zinc in the new paint will allow scratches in the surface to oxidize and create a protective coating, or to "heal itself," much like a cut on skin.

The same diligence the team displayed in seeking innovative solutions to eliminate hazardous waste also is evident in the way the project is being managed. The refurbishment entails a daily effort to keep people safe while they are 100 feet in the air performing the intricate blasting and painting required on the structure while being aware of the delicate environment.

"Everybody's activity out there is dangerous," Hampton said. "It's important that (personnel performing) all those tasks are aware of each other's presence and what they are doing, to make sure that no one harms anyone else."

The crew consists of as many as 12 workers from Interstate Scaffolding and six people from Hipp Wrap Containment - two additional contractors on the project - and up to 12 people from Techno Coatings. As many as 20 people may be onsite on some days, Hampton said.

For that reason, emphasis is placed every day on the job about fall protection and other issues critical to a safe day, he said. And safety starts with the basics - like how to get to the work.

"In order to do the work, you have to be able to get to it," Hampton said.

So, Interstate Scaffolding, a company considered by the State of California to be a leader in its field in safety, was added to the team to assemble a system of scaffolding that would allow workers to get to the hoist and the two towers of the MDD, as well as give them access to service platforms. A safety net also was installed by TCI to keep tools and people from being hurt in the event of a fall.

To anchor the temporary scaffolding several concrete K-rails - the kind used as freeway barriers - and a system of cables have been installed on each side of the MDD. The interior MDD sports aluminum platforms and the safety net, designed to keep any debris or tools that are dropped from falling all the way to the ground.

"It's pretty spectacular. It's also pretty scary to be out there and doing blasting," Hampton said.

Also spectacular is the covering that has engulfed the entire MDD at some points in the project.

"The shrink wrap protects all workers outside the containment area," said Brett Buffington, a painting inspector with Techno Coatings. "We're also are aware of the highly sensitive desert environment of the dry lakebed - the desert tortoise and the burrowing owls. Techno protects its employees and the environment here at Dryden. Obviously, we couldn't just blast and allow it to drift; we had to contain it."

Wind presents another hazard because the shrink-wrap fabric is like that used on a sailplane, Buffington said - which means it catches breezes easily. Work on the project is suspended during high winds because of ramifications the blowing cover has for safety.

So far, the team has received high marks during audit visits by air quality management officials. Both audits, which the project requested, showed that the team is meeting the highest standards and criteria for this type of project, Hampton said.


Mate/DeMate Photo Gallery, (/centers/dfrc/Gallery/Photo/STS-MDD/index.html)