July 8, 2010 in Business

Ex-astronaut in Liberty Lake to talk about how NASA uses software

By The Spokesman-Review
Dan Pelle photo

Former space shuttle astronaut Mike McCulley visits with Insight Direct sales employees Susan Nash, left, Danielle Dearborn and general manager David Cristal during a visit to the Liberty Lake business Wednesday. McCulley, of United Space Alliance, recognized Insight as a key software vendor for space shuttle operations.
(Full-size photo)

Some software used by astronauts on board the space shuttle gets there thanks to people working for a Liberty Lake business.

Insight Direct, a regional office of Tempe, Ariz.-based Insight.com, is a key software provider for NASA’s space shuttle operations.

On Wednesday, the contractor that buys some NASA software came to Liberty Lake to thank Insight workers for the job they’re doing.

That contractor, Houston-based United Space Alliance, relies on Insight Direct and about 2,300 other suppliers to provide everything NASA needs to run the space shuttle program.

Wednesday’s visit was also a chance for about 40 Insight workers to hear firsthand how that software is being used in space and on the ground.

Shuttle crews don’t use off-the-shelf software to operate the spacecraft. They do use personal laptops to record data and take notes, and those computers use software that is purchased through Liberty Lake, said Gary Henderson, head of supplier relations for United Space Alliance.

Since 2007, United Space Alliance has placed orders totaling about $1.7 million from Insight primarily for the shuttle program, Henderson said.

NASA gives that software to ground-based administrators, program managers and flight technicians, said Mike McCulley, a former shuttle astronaut attending Wednesday’s event.

McCulley flew on a shuttle mission in 1989, logging more than 100 hours in space. After leaving NASA, he worked for Lockheed Martin. Between 2003 and 2007 he served as the CEO of United Space Alliance, which operates as a joint subsidiary of Lockheed Martin and the Boeing Company.

“We call ourselves a space-operations company. And we pretty much provide everything (NASA) needs, from motors to screws,” McCulley said. The company also is the primary contractor for NASA’s crews working on the International Space Station.

The shuttle program has helped Insight’s bottom line, but that revenue stream will end next year when NASA plans to shut down the program after 30 years of space missions.

McCulley doesn’t think the closure will have a big impact on Insight. “They’re a pretty large company. They have a lot of other contracts,” he said.

About 20 of Insight Direct’s 100 workers at Liberty Lake provide sales and service to public-sector buyers, said Dave Cristal, an Insight vice president.

The rest focus on sales to large companies across the Western and Central United States, he said. Insight acquired the Liberty Lake operation when it bought tech retailer Software Spectrum in 2006.

While NASA has auditors tracking the purchases of supplies for the shuttle program, it turns to companies like United Space Alliance to manage the complexity or ordering thousands of different items from suppliers all over the continent, said Henderson, the company’s head of supplier relations.

In turn, United values suppliers like Insight, Henderson said: “They go out and find the products that are best and most adaptable for our needs.”

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