Sandia LabNews

Massive MESA project advances to next step

On a cold day in February, MESA program director Don Cook (1900) stands with his hands in the pockets of his black overcoat, looking through a chainlink fence at two huge front-end loaders digging up the field west of Bldg. 897 at the southeast corner of Area 1.

Sixty-eight million dollars will come in this year from the NNSA to push further forward a $423 million project expected not only to renovate much Sandia physical plant and equipment but also revive any flagging Sandia spirit (if any still remains to be energized post-9/11).

"This is where the Weapons Integration Center will be — three stories, with 181 weapon engineers," Don says. Gesturing to the east of the Microelectronics Development Lab, he says, "There is where the MicroFab will be, with new cleanrooms and equipment to replace CSRL [the Compound Semiconductor Research Laboratory].

"The pedestrian walkway will be here where we’re standing. We’ll have a Starbucks and maybe a cafeteria."

Pointing north of MDL, he indicates the site for the upgrade of major support systems, and in MDL, the installation of the latest equipment for producing radiation-hardened circuitry.

"We’ve already paid $9 million for rad-hard tools for MDL, with another $30 million to be spent this year," he says.

To the west, almost to the Technology Transfer Center, will be the Joint Computational Engineering Laboratory building, a construction project managed separately from MESA but integrated functionally, where facilities and equipment for computational research and engineering will be located.

After several years of occasionally frustrating, line-by-line budget discussions with staff of the Senate, House, DOE, and NNSA, Don — a flexibly strong person who is calm on the outside but driven on the inside — has developed so intense and unswerving a belief in this project that he can make listeners almost see buildings otherwise invisible already standing on bare earth.

He points out the contributions of others as he itemizes the varied achievements of the massive project as it moves from paper to physical reality:

  • $68 million allotted this year by NNSA for MESA engineering design completion, rerouting of MESA site utilities, upgrading of the MDL major support systems, and retooling of the equipment for producing radiation-hardened microelectronics.
  • "[Nuclear Weapons Senior VP] Tom Hunter’s vision and leadership for the nuclear weapons program has been invaluable," says Don. "[Chief Technology Officer] Al Romig’s drive for science and engineering integration to assist all the SBUs has been unwavering." The work proceeds under the direction of project manager Bill Jenkins (1920). The site utilities work is under the direction of deputy project manager Dave Bailey (10810). In upcoming work, there will be upgrades to the deionized water system, acid exhaust system, chilled water system, and the specialty gas system (toxic gases used for microcircuits and microsystems). The last is under deputy project manager Jim Beals (10810). The face of the ground is changing at the southern end of Area 1.
  • A contract, under the supervision of Erlinda Silva (10253), has been signed with a local company, Albuquerque Underground Inc., to move utilities. The company did excellent work on Albuquerque’s Big I highway project, says Erlinda, as well as on a previous sanitation project at Sandia.
  • An in-house video of the MESA project won the 2001 Telly Award (which offers recognition to outstanding non-network and cable TV commercials) for portrayal of a computerized flyby of the complex as it will look when built. The video was made under the leadership of K-Tech contractor Dan Fleming (1900) and Video Services’ Myra Edaburn and manager Lana Everett (both 12610).

Don nevertheless commends those Sandia engineers who have asserted that current control systems are more than adequate to direct nuclear weapons and that microtechnologies are as yet too unproven to control weapons of mass destruction. "Those are the right questions at this time. You need such folks to keep saying, ‘It’s not proven,’ to keep us working on improving the technologies."

On the other hand, he says, "People don’t often point out that we can’t use vacuum tubes in these systems, even if we could buy them, because new hires don’t know how to design circuits using tubes anymore. Technologies advance. Vacuum tubes have been replaced by microelectronics. The question is the amount of work we have to do to get new technologies ready for prime-time, high-consequence applications."

To this end, two design teams are working together programmatically to integrate nanotechnology and microsystems.

Another process that runs in parallel, Don says (returning mentally to the paper chase as he stands in the cold air at the MESA site), is the work authorization process within NNSA. "Under that process, the part for completing the engineering design has been freeing up nicely."

As he turns for a last look at the far reaches of MESA’s rising domain, he looks in profile strikingly like a hawk. "We recently got approval from NNSA to begin final engineering for all of MESA," he says.