After four or five buildings, usually no taller than four stories with the same color gray or brown paint pass along the curving Herndon Parkway — just past the new police station — drivers tend to drift away from the road and on to "more important" matters.
Unfinished work waiting at the office, errands to run, what to have for dinner?
But, those nondescript buildings could in fact pique the drivers' interest, if only they paid attention.
Who works in those buildings? What companies occupy the sprawling spaces? What kind of work is done in there?
In one of the grayish-white structures — just past Spring Street before Van Buren — is Valador, Inc., an information systems and technology firm. In a small suite on the third floor, employees of the service-disabled veteran-owned business work on projects unimaginable to the drivers of the cars speeding along the parkway.
Founded in 2001, the company is currently responsible for helping NASA with making a trip back to the moon, among many other technical support services for NASA engineers.
"We are an information architecture firm developing vital information for war fighters and space agencies," said Valador co-founder Kevin Mabie.
A former U.S. Navy Top Gun graduate who used to fly from an aircraft carrier, Mabie is now the president and CEO of Valador. And, he helps manage the modeling and simulation services created for NASA's rocket scientists. He also does his best to keep his 45 employees happy by allowing them to explore their creative sides.
"One of the things Valador does is it tries to make the work here fun for the employees," said Rick Brubaker, director of marketing and inside sales for Valador.
Each holiday season, employees receive a high-end "toy" and each employee is encouraged to build their own computer — or "cube" because of its box shape. Staff are able to explore their creativity further by creating other technological outlets, including a video-game console that in fact holds an everyday computer. The company also ensures that all drinks and snacks are paid for, so employees do not have to worry about having change for the vending machine.
"The whole company is very employee oriented," said Brubaker. "The kind of work we do is exciting and the work environment is exciting."
RECENTLY AWARDED a $50 million contract by NASA to provide a wide range of technical support services, employees need those outlets to even-out the everyday pressures of work.
As the prime contractor for NASA's spaceship Columbia Accident Investigation Board, Valador employees were given 48-hour deadlines to turn around data, said Mabie.
"We were given thousands of work orders and we met the 48-hour requirement one hundred percent of the time," added Brubaker. "We were able to pull in the necessary experts that quickly."
Daniel Heimerdinger, another co-founder of Valador, worked with NASA when he was first out of college, explained Brubaker. An aerospace engineer, Heimerdinger is also the executive vice president of the company.
"He truly is a rocket scientist," said Brubaker.
Because of his prior connections with NASA, Heimerdinger was able to sell Valador's services while guaranteeing the company had enough connections to pull in additional experts. Heimerdinger was also recently named one of four new advisors to the new NASA administration, said Brubaker.
The most recent contract awarded to the company by NASA has a five-year agreement. Under the contract Valador employees will provide studies, analyses, modeling simulation and technical support services primarily for NASA Headquarters' program analysis and evaluation office. The services will also be provided to the office of the chief engineer and be available for use by all NASA centers.
IN THE PAST, probably the most fun work Valador has done for NASA and other companies — like the Department of Defense — has been their modeling and simulation services.
With this technology they use modern gaming techniques to help people visualize what something will look like, or how it would operate once completed.
Modern gaming techniques include the same 3-D technology from computer and video games that people play for fun, and putting them into their work programs.
An example of this is the company's simulation of the construction of one of NASA's rockets. Using mathematical equations, life-size measurements of parts and other real data, Valador employees created software to show the construction of a rocket. The stages of construction are shown, resulting in a final product — a rocket driven out to the launching pad and then taking off.
"We develop these models to run on normal desktop or laptop computers," said Mabie. "We use modern gaming techniques to put in 3-D visualization."
Another example is the creation of a cyber building. Employees took actual architectural diagrams and measurements and created a cyber replica of a building being constructed.
"We had a 100,000-square-foot building modeled within inches of the actual building," said Mabie. "We added the gaming technology to help it seem more real."
NASA has also expressed interest in using the gaming technology to pique childrens’ interest about pursuing a potential career in aerospace or science, said Mabie.
"They want to use real data with missions to keep kids active," he said.
Valador focuses on three other areas in addition to model and simulation. These include information assurance, management consulting and computer software engineering, said Mabie.
Headquartered in Herndon, Valador has offices in Colorado Springs, Colo., where Heimerdinger does most of his work, and in New York City.
Intending to keep its location in the building along the Herndon Parkway, Valador will add new software programmers, graphic artists and intelligence analysts, among other specialists, to its mix to keep up with NASA's demands, said Brubaker.
"We have a blanket purchase agreement so it's not work all the time," he said. "But, anyone who wants our services can ask for them — whether that's at NASA headquarters or anyone else within the company."