It's a Wonderful Weld

By Steven Buettner

October 2016

As hard as it is for me to walk right now (foot problems) I got an email notification, which I set up from the NASA website, that the International Space Station (ISS) was about to fly over, and since it is such a beautiful, clear evening I was able to go outside to watch it fly over. I have seen it dozens of times but never get tired of seeing it. Boeing is the prime contractor. Maybe that's why.

I guess it intrigues me because in an earlier Boeing life back in the early 1970s I was a Research and Development welder for a period of time. I worked with a man named Bernie Van Cleave, whom I consider a genius. We were tasked with developing a welding process of thick aluminum that could withstand the hazards of outer space.

I guess I was chosen to work in the lab because of my experience with plasma arc welding on stainless steel at The Boeing Company when they were building hydrofoils. Aluminum is an entirely different animal. Long story short, we developed a process called VPPAW -- Variable Polarity Plasma Arc Welding -- which means it's a hybrid of both AC and DC plasma welding. We'll leave it at that. Google it if you're interested.

It was successful -- we managed to make welds on thick aluminum plates that were impervious to the radical conditions of outer space. Cool!!! The ISS is constructed of tubular aluminum modules, which I had the opportunity to help develop. They sent one of my lab partners, Clint Griffee, down to Huntsville, Ala., (Missiles and Space division during that time) to help start up the manufacturing of the ISS modules.

I guess that is why I like to watch it fly over and never get tired seeing it.