Paragon: A Fast-Growing Company During Crucial NASA Work

U.S. Rep. U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, Chairwoman of the House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee, recently toured the Tucson-based Paragon Space Development Corporation – a fast growing company that is doing key work for NASA and other organizations.

I found an announcement of the upcoming visit on the Paragon website. Although the news is a bit old, it contains a good summary of the company’s major projects, which include making life support systems for NASA’s new vehicles, the space agency’s new spacesuit, and growing a plant on the moon.

A slightly edited version of the press release follows.

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Rated the fastest growing private Aerospace Engineering Company in America by Inc. Magazine, Paragon is one of America’s leading high-tech companies that develops and manufactures key components for NASA’s Orion crew exploration vehicle that will replace the space shuttle and take astronauts to the moon and eventually Mars. Paragon is a member of the Orion team led by Lockheed Martin, NASA’s prime contractor for Orion.

During the tour Giffords will see the cutting edge, 16,000-square foot facility where Orion spacecraft components will be made, and visit with some of Paragon’s 65 employees.

Paragon is celebrating its continuing growth with new contracts for a next generation NASA space suit, an advanced U.S. Navy diving system, and an innovative partnership with Odyssey Moon to win the Google Lunar X PRIZE and grow a plant on the Moon.

NASA: The Next Generation Space Suit

Paragon has received authorization to begin work on NASA’s Constellation Space Suit System (CSSS). The CSSS will embody the next generation of space suit, which hasn’t seen a complete design overhaul since the early days of the space program.

Paragon is beginning this work on the first major space suit redesign in over 40 years as part of a team led by Oceaneering International, Inc. of Houston. Paragon has key responsibilities in the design and manufacture of the suit’s life support and thermal control system. The first suits will support the debut flight of the new Orion spaceship that Paragon is also working on, currently planned to launch in 2015. With modifications, the suit will go on to be used exploring the surface of the Moon and Mars.

Giffords’ Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee has oversight of NASA, its contractors, and the FAA’s regulation of commercial space ventures.

“The investment that Paragon has made in our community, and the contracts they have won provide an excellent example of the value that high-tech innovation brings to our community,” said Giffords, who has served on the House Science and Technology Committee since January 2007, the beginning of her first term representing Southeastern Arizona’s 8th Congressional District.

Giffords was selected to preside over the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee in January 2009.

“We are grateful for the strong and enduring support we receive from Congresswoman Giffords and across Arizona as we work to bring the Human Spaceflight and Space Exploration programs, as well as great economic news to southern Arizona,” said Taber MacCallum, CEO of Paragon, “Government and commercial space programs are at the forefront of America’s high technology economic recovery engine, and inspire our youth to pursue the science and technology careers that are so critical to our country’s economic future.”

US NAVY: Paragon Dive Systemâ„¢

Paragon will announce a contract from the United States Navy to begin production and certification of the Paragon Dive Systemâ„¢, an advanced contaminated water diving system developed by Paragon under a series of previous US Navy contracts. Using space suit and life support system experience, Paragon engineers developed the Paragon Dive Systemâ„¢ a suit and life support system that protects divers working in water contaminated with chemical warfare agents or toxic industrial chemicals like jet fuel. A working prototype of the Paragon Dive Systemâ„¢ will be available at the event.

Odyssey Moon: Partnering to Grow First Plant on the Moon

Paragon is also announcing its partnership with Odyssey Moon Ltd., the first contender in the Google Lunar X PRIZE, to provide its biological system expertise to grow the first plant on the Moon. This would be another space biology first for Paragon, having bred the first animals through complete life cycles in space, and grown the first aquatic plant in space.

“People of all ages will get excited about the idea of growing a plant on the Moon,” said Jane Poynter, President and founder of Paragon. “Imagine a bright flower on a plant in a crystal clear growth chamber on the surface of the Moon, with the full Earth rising above the Moonscape behind it; these are the ideas that got me interested in space.”

“Plants have been grown in essentially zero gravity and of course in Earth gravity, but never in fractions of gravity,” said Dr. Volker Kern, Paragon’s Director of NASA Human Spaceflight Programs who conducted plant growth experiments in space on the Space Shuttle. “Scientifically it will be very interesting to understand the effects of the Moon and one-sixth gravity on plant growth.”

NASA Ames planetary scientist Dr. Christopher McKay will be supporting the Lunar Oasis science team. “The first plant to grow from seed and complete its life cycle on another world will be a significant step in the expansion of life beyond the Earth. The sooner we do it the better,” he said.

In addition to leading the design of biological payloads, Paragon’s responsibilities on the Odyssey Moon team include robotic lunar lander design support and the lander’s thermal control system. Paragon CEO Taber MacCallum will also be joining the Odyssey Moon Board of Advisors.

“We are thrilled to have Paragon join the team with their expertise in thermal and biological systems,” said Odyssey Moon founder and CEO Dr. Robert (Bob) Richards. “I am incredibly inspired by our hope to send the first plant to another world.”