It looks more compact and fragile than a safety pin.
The gold-wired connectors inside the Cernox temperature sensor are thinner than a strand of human hair. But the tiny sensing element made of copper, gold and ceramics can withstand temperatures ranging from minus 458 degrees Fahrenheit to plus 300 degrees.
The sensor, invented and built in Westerville, is one of thousands of pieces from more than 3,800 suppliers -- more than 100 in Ohio -- across all 50 states that equip NASA's latest Orion space mission, Artemis 1, designed to go to the moon, on to Mars and into deep space.
"I have to say, it's kind of cool to think that the parts that I handle, the parts that I inspect, that I've tested, are going to be in space for the next 30 years where they're orbiting Saturn or Jupiter," said Scott Courts, a physicist and applications scientist at Lake Shore Cryotronics in Westerville.
The main companies contracting with NASA are those one would expect. For example, Lockheed Martin is working on Orion, which will be able to take astronauts to multiple destinations in space. Boeing is the lead for the rocket and launch system being designed to transport crew members and support systems into deep space. Northrop Grumman is handling the solid rocket boosters, said Kathryn Hambleton, a public affairs officer at NASA's headquarters.
But, she said, "Each of those companies has many suppliers across the country. And the suppliers list includes all the suppliers and vendors that work underneath those companies."
The list was published in January and has not been updated to reflect companies that have changed hands or moved.
NASA plans to return to the moon by 2024 and embark on long-term lunar exploration by 2028.
"We're going to utilize the resources of the moon in order to learn how to live and work on another world," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who spoke to reporters during a tour at NASA's Glenn Research Center facility in Sandusky last month.
"What does that mean? That means we're going to use the water-ice. About 10 years ago, we learned that there's hundreds of millions of tons of water-ice in the South Pole of the moon. That water-ice represents air to breathe, it represents water to drink and it also represents rocket fuel -- hydrogen and oxygen is the same rocket fuel that powers the space shuttles."
Boeing's Space Launch System rocket is the size of a 38-story building and can produce 8.8 million pounds of thrust at launch, according to Boeing's website. The Cernox censors will be used in NASA's Exploration Ground Systems which is a program to revamp infrastructure and facilities to modernize Kennedy Space Center to launch spacecrafts.
The fiscal 2020 budget was amended to provide an increase of $1.6 billion above the president's initial $21 billion budget request, with no money taken from existing NASA programs, to bolster deep-space exploration, according to NASA's website.
The states with the largest number of companies supplying materials for the mission include California (more than 700), Florida (more than 400), Colorado (more than 250) and Texas (nearly as many as Colorado).
About 124 Ohio companies supply NASA, nearly 15 of them in central Ohio.
Ohio businesses and educational institutions, such as Ohio State University, received just under $200 million collectively in fiscal 2018 funding, according to NASA's fiscal 2018 budget. By comparison, state businesses and research universities received $4.5 billion in California and $1.3 billion in Florida.
Lake Shore Cryrotronics, a family engineering business founded in 1968, patented the temperature sensors in 1994. The sensors help regulate temperature so that mechanical devices can function in space. Courts was on the team that created the original Cernox sensors. Aerospace projects make up about 5% of the company's work.
The company's sensors have been used in previous space projects, including the Cassini space probe that crashed into Saturn a couple of years ago and the new James Webb Telescope, which was assembled last month.
The sensors are put together under microscopes as workers' steady hands maneuver parts into place.
"Probably 20 people have inspected them, tested and built them," Courts said.
Part of the testing involves dipping the sensing element into liquid nitrogen.
"Depending on whether you're pointed toward the sun or away from the sun, you may have extreme changes in the temperature of whatever this is mounted to," Courts said. "So some of the testing we do goes to taking this sensor and maybe thermally shocking it from room temperature to negative 320 degrees Fahrenheit -- maybe 2,000 times just to collect data to make sure we can present to NASA to show that they're not failing."
The sensors also must function seamlessly after the powerful disruption of a rocket launch.
They can withstand 20,000 g-force units of shock. Fighter pilots, wearing pressurized suits, can withstand up to about 12 g-force units.
"They actually attach it to a table, and that table they can program to very rapidly drop, go to the left or go back and forth. So it can shock them mechanically on each of three independent axes," Courts said.
Everything is checked and then re-checked. Electrical measurements are taken. The sensors are subjected to a burn-in test, which allows each one to operate at elevated temperatures for a month.
"There are X-rays taken from the top and the side view," Courts said. "So you can actually see, these wires look like they're falling over, if they're crossing or if they've lifted. So every one of these devices that we build for aerospace, we actually send through all of the screening tests."