• Jun 18, 2014
NASA Comes to Airstream
The first Airstream trailers company-founder Wally Byam ever built were made out of Masonite, a type of hardboard made of pressed-wood fibers. But for 78 years, the trailers have been made of shiny, malleable aluminum. They are built with the same precision and attention to detail as an airplane's fuselage.

Each Airstream requires on average 750 square feet of aluminum cut into hundreds of pieces to construct. Workers team up to rivet pieces of the metal shell together, making sure to carefully place each rivet as to not dent or compromise the material.

That teamwork is the cornerstone of Airstream's training program. Employees rely on a specific team for training and mentorship when they are first hired. But it's common, even applauded, for Airstream employees to jump from department to department during their careers, acquiring knowledge and sharing their own along the way.

For Larry Metz and Bob Sanford, that knowledge computes into what might as well be doctoral degrees in RV. Neither have a college education, as they both started at Airstream right out of high school. Aside from a milk route and working on the family farm, Airstream is the only full-time job Metz has ever held. His photo on the anniversary board is in the 50-year group. Sanford has been with the company since 1967.

One of the best jobs Sanford has had at Airstream was helping to build a special trailer to house the astronauts from the Apollo 11 moon landing. Because NASA feared what the astronauts might bring back from space, they needed an airtight land capsule that could stop hypothetical alien pathogens from escaping into Earth's atmosphere.

"It was a very restricted build process," Sanford remembers. "My part was to build two end shells and part of the body assembly. It was quite an accomplishment because it was something nobody knew about. You knew there was an event happening that wasn't going to happen for another couple years, so you were kind of anxious but also had a lot of pride about it as well."

With all those years on the job at Airstream, Sanford and Metz could have taken jobs elsewhere. In 1985, Honda opened a plant in Anna, Ohio, just 20 minutes away. It was a big deal that a Japanese company had picked a little town in Ohio to build its cars. And Sanford says he'd be lying if he didn't think about leaving-but not for long.

"But then I realized what I had at Airstream and what a sacrifice it may be to go somewhere else," he says. So he stayed and has thrived in the company's research and development division, becoming the go-to guy to fix and tweak machinery at the plant.

"The people you work with here are a big incentive to stay," he says with a smile. "Besides, were else can you go and work on cool projects like with NASA?!"


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  • 52 Comments
      brennemanbelkin
      • 5 Months Ago
      Some things are worth paying for. (Real Band Aids, Bush's beans) Airstream.
      clafoon
      • 5 Months Ago
      I was an Airstream owner. I am now 79 years old and have stopped going down the road in my RV. Yes I knew about the Airstream involvement with NASA. I worked for a Nasa Contractor when the Space Program begain. Many people do not realize that Airstream also makes portable Medical Facilities for use in very Rural America. They are Large Motor Homes that have been modified to handle Medical situations and are driven around the Country. They are basiclly Doctors Offices on wheels. They are completely self contained and can function out in the middle of a Pastuer if required.
      PeteBB
      • 5 Months Ago
      Airstream should have mentioned an old, comic movie with Bob Hope and Lucille Ball (Don't remember the movie name) in which they were vacationing in an Airstream.
        x
        • 5 Months Ago
        @PeteBB
        It was "The Long Long Trailer"
      Ray Meyer
      • 5 Months Ago
      The movie was the Long, Long, Trailer and the actors were Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez, her husband at the time. She colelcted rocks for all the places they visited.
      gcanning775
      • 5 Months Ago
      nothing is worse than space cooties!
      Doug
      • 5 Months Ago
      The Airstream was on the Hornet which it still is at the retired Hornet Museum at Alameda CA. And I love Bush's beans made here in Knoxville TN.
      qaqs9000
      • 5 Months Ago
      Not a big secret. Not an unknown thing. Anyone that watched TV at that time was aware that the airstream was to be used for the short period of time to insure nothing would be allowed to come back to Earth in the form of a virus or bacterium. This article shows a normal HP yellow journalism banner written by someone that wasn't even alive at the time. Grow up and do some decent research.
      mkrystmas
      • 5 Months Ago
      My Great Aunt Lillian and her husband cris crossed the United States every other year in their Airstream. We would always wait to see the glowing silver bullet as we saw it coming down the road. I don't know how old Uncle Joe was when he left us but I do know that Great Aunt Lillian lived to be 98 years young. I wonder what ever happened to the Silver Bullet Airstream. I never had an opportunity to travel in this amazing machine...but I do remember when you walked inside you felt so safe.
      Don
      • 1 Month Ago

      NASA has actually solved the problem in a somewhat more direct manner...no manned space shots...or unmanned, for that matter.  Perhaps they should change their name to NAA, leave the "Space" part out altogether.

      dsherline
      • 1 Month Ago

      "How Airstream trailers helped NASA keep our astronauts safe"

      That's terribly inaccurate. The Airstreams they had built were to keep the rest of us safe from any potential contagions the astronauts may have brought back. If they had brought back any contagions they were already screwed.

      Robert
      • 1 Month Ago

      This article completely ignores the fact that the Airstream was designed by Hawley Bowlus who was an aeronautical engineer at Boeing. He also designed high performance gliders and was a competitive glider pilot. He did not, however, name it Airstream; that name came from the next owner of the company.

      kmitnck0405
      • 5 Months Ago
      They brought back a fabricated story thats for sure. After all the evidence proving that they could have never made it to the moon people still buy into this ruse.
        BARRY AND KATHY
        • 5 Months Ago
        @kmitnck0405
        All I need for you to prove you're a complete idiot is for you to now say you believe in God.
          Ski
          • 5 Months Ago
          @BARRY AND KATHY
          Some day you'll regret that statement. Because when that day comes, you'll believe in G_d.....
        Genericbeer
        • 5 Months Ago
        @kmitnck0405
        I'm gonna call you The Fisherman, cause you're definitely trolling on this one.
        mustsvt
        • 5 Months Ago
        @kmitnck0405
        How do that tinfoil hat feel on your head?
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