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Mon, Apr 09, 2007

Used NASA Parts: One Man's Junk Is Another Man's Treasure

NASA "Junk" Sought After By Many

With the dawning of the 21st century came the dawning of a new industry - commercial space flight. And with it, the requirement for cast-off NASA "stuff."

Collectors and hobbyists may have gravitated towards Norton Sales in North Hollywood, CA, for nearly 50 years, but these days they are elbow to elbow with the industry's newest entrepreneurs, reports the Los Angeles Times.

This new generation of rocketeers is much more interested in small pieces of scrap and surplus, than, say, a much larger twin module engine... a second stage motor for a Saturn V... or titanium spheres that once stored highly explosive liquid oxygen rocket fuel.

And the pieces they are seeking can be purchased for a tenth of what it would cost to buy new, to boot.

"This is like the holy grail for a rocket enthusiast without much money," said Tim Pickens, president of the Huntsville, AL, based rocket services company Orion Propulsion.

And it's not just little known names that shop at the 12,000-square-foot warehouse; Norton has supplied parts to most of the new space explorers, including Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites and Elon Musk's Space Exploration Technologies Corp.

Norton was founded by restaurateur Norton J. Holstrom, who began buying scrap rocket parts in the early 1960s when Los Angeles was home to many of the country's largest space and defense contractors. At the time, NASA spending accounted for 7 percent of the federal budget.

And although Norton's sells about $700,000 in merchandise a year, making the company profitable, post 9/11 challenges prevent it from selling overseas. And, said Guatemalan immigrant Carols Guzman, who took over the company several years ago, "This stuff is tough to get nowadays."

However, the future is looking bright for Guzman and Norton's with a renewed interest in old space parts. This thanks to  President Bush's declaration that the US would return to the moon by 2020 along with the growth of the commercial space industry.

For Norton's, there's no place to go but up.

FMI: www.nortonsalesinc.com

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