To the Cleanroom and Beyond!

Yesterday I went on a half-day tour of my company, Ball Aerospace. They give the tour for employees every two months. I emailed the Responsible Party and asked if it was doable in a wheelchair.

His response was very prompt: it was four hours, two miles, fourteen buildings, any weather. All of that was up to me. The only part he was concerned about, he said, was the cleanroom. I naively asked why. It turns out that everything that goes into a cleanroom has to be … clean. Wheelchairs are not particularly clean. Let me think about it, he said, I’ll get back to you.

A week or two later I’m waiting for the elevator, and a man walks past me, then turns around – you must be Katja Stokley, he says. He is the RP for the tour. He’s been thinking about the cleanroom, and he wonders if I have a spare chair. Yes, I do. Great – here’s what we’ll do – bring me your spare chair the morning of the tour, we’ll clean it, and you can use it in the cleanroom. Should only take three or four hours.

Three or four hours? Somebody is going to spend three or four hours cleaning my wheelchair so that I can take a tour of the cleanroom? Sure, he’ll do it himself.

And so it came to pass.

It’s amazing how much different stuff Ball Aerospace, a company of 2400 people, does. We saw the scanning electron microscope lab (that’s one big preying mantis), the destructive test lab, the photo studio, the model shop, the library, the low light level tv lab, the star tracker production and testing facility, a fast steering mirror demonstration, the thermal vacuum chamber, the anechoic chamber, and the 30,000 pound force shake table (“we break what needs to be broken”). And we saw the cleanroom, including bunches of satellites and instruments in various stages of integration and test. It was really cool.


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