By Kevin Sweeney
NEW ULM - Windings, Inc., employees had a special interest in when NASA's Curiosity rover set down on Mars and started looking for signs of life earlier in August month.
A part produced by Windings was used in the spacecraft that helped place the lander on Mars' surface.
Windings President and CEO Jerry Kauffman said the part, a stator about three inches in diameter, was part of the "dynamic braking system" on the platform that hovered above the Martian surface, and lowered Curiosity to the planet's surface.
Sadly, the platform, relieved of its burden, was then discarded by rocketing back out into space, said Kauffman.
The stator may be the first piece Windings created that got so close to Mars, but it is not the first piece it has produced that has traveled into space, said Kauffman.
"We do a lot of work for aerospace and aircraft industries," he said. Windings makes stators - stationary rings packed with coils of copper wires that are used in servo motors. The stators produce an electromagnetic field that turns the drive shaft on the motor. The servo motors are used to adjust, turn, open or close lots of different parts on aircraft and space craft.
Parts that go into space are made to exacting standards in "clean spaces," where employees wear gloves and masks to prevent airborn dust, lint and other particles from getting into to the works, which could cause failure in outer space where there's little chance for a service call.
Kauffman said Windings products have been used in solar missions, on the space station, in telecommunications and GPS sattelites orbitting earth, and on the Mars orbiter that circled the red planet, sending back information.
Windings even made a part for a probe that crashed head-on into a comet, sending back information about the makeup of comet's head.
Kauffman said the company doesn't always know where its parts are going.
"We always ask, and sometimes they say they can't tell us," he said.
Windings products are purchased by the manufacturers that get the aerospace contracts, said Kauffman, and sometimes even they don't know what the use will be.
With the Mars rover, the company got a reminder as the Mars landing neared. The landing happened overnight, so the company didn't do anything special, but employees have taken a great pride and interest in their part in the space program, said Kauffman.