As schoolchildren growing up in the 1960s, Mike Cain and his brothers, Bob and John, had the coolest stories to tell their classmates.
Their grandfather and father, Clyde and Robert, ran a fairly new St. Charles company that was a subcontractor to a company working on the Apollo space mission, creating heat exchangers coils that were used in Apollo command modules.
"For us, it was an exciting show-and-tell piece to bring in samples and tell everyone that dad and grandpa were working on this stuff," Mike Cain said, "All of our classmates and everyone in the community were getting real excited about it."
Although he cannot verify his grandfather's products were on board Apollo 11 when it made its historic voyage culminating with Neil Armstrong's first step on the moon on July 20, 1969, Mike can say for sure that they were a part of the earlier missions that led up to that trip.
Fast forward 50 years, and Mike, Bob and John are third-generation owners of Cain Tubular Products, a manufacturer of custom tube bending, coiling, forming and joining products for a number of industries and projects -- including NASA space programs.
With the possible exception of Chicago-based Boeing Co., most people might be hard-pressed to name an Illinois company that does business with NASA. In reality, hundreds of businesses in the state work directly or subcontract work with the federal agency. NASA lists 128 Illinois companies as suppliers for its Deep Space Exploration System, which is working on developing the next generation space exploration system for manned and unmanned missions to the moon and Mars. That ranks Illinois eighth in the number of companies working on the project.
Many of those companies are small businesses and their contributions range from the heat exchanger coils made by Cain Tubular Products to semiconductors developed by Bolingbrook-based EPIR Technologies that are in the Hitomi satellite, a joint NASA-Japan space agency mission exploring phenomena such as black holes, supernova remnants and galaxy clusters.
For Cain, its work with NASA on the J2X engine -- developed for the agency's Space Launch System program -- earned the company the Honoree Award, NASA's highest honor for suppliers.
John Cain notes that project helped put their company in NASA's spotlight.
"Our niche is very specific to them," he said, adding much of the company's work is done as subcontractor to larger companies who receive contracts.
Other projects Cain has been tabbed to work on include refitting engines designed for the Space Shuttle programs to be used with current rocket programs.
"They had developed 16 (engines) that were left in inventory once the shuttle program shut down," Mike said. "We reconfigured the shuttle main engines to use in new rocket systems."
Mike Cain's advice for companies looking to land a space agency contract is to be very patient. He said working with the agency can be very slow and demanding.
"The programs move at slow pace, they are very cautious very careful," he said. "So you kind of sit and wait many times."
But working with the people at NASA is extremely rewarding, he added, noting that the staff there is focused on problem solving.
"It's a higher level that you'll work with, but they're the greatest people you'll ever work with. They're the best of the best," he said.
Their relationship with the agency has also given them the opportunity to travel the country to witness tests in the Space Launch System program. It also earned Mike Cain a trip to Cape Canaveral, Florida, this past weekend to be a part of NASA's 50th anniversary celebration of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
"It was just awe, being there with the people and walking the grounds where it all happened," Mike said, noting there was a full moon during the evening of the event.
Surprisingly, the Cain brothers take a low-key approach to their relationship with NASA. While they will mention it to customers or people who ask, they do not mention NASA ties in their marketing or sales materials.
But that doesn't lessen their excitement over having a role in the nation's space program.
"To be a part of something that you know is much greater than all of us, that's pretty cool," he added.
The staff at Meet Chicago Northwest earned bragging rights recently, being named the Best Convention & Visitors Bureau in Chicagoland by the readers of Illinois Meetings and Events magazine.
The magazine asks its readers to vote for the best venues, hotels, conference centers, attractions and convention and visitors bureaus in the meetings and events industry in Illinois.
The award was announced In the Summer 2019 issue.
"The industry trend setting activities demonstrated by the Meet Chicago Northwest Convention and Visitor Bureau leadership, its President Dave Parulo and its Sales Leader Heather Larson are well deserved of this recognition." said Dieter Heigl, chairman of Meet Chicago Northwest and General Manager of Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center Hotel.
It's the second time Meet Chicago Northwest earned the top honor, the last time in 2016.
The regional bureau represents the the suburbs of Arlington Heights, Elk Grove Village, Itasca, Rolling Meadows, Roselle, Schaumburg, Streamwood and Wood Dale.
The organization also congratulates their partners who were also recognized for top spots, including Aries Charter- Best Transportation; Tasty Catering -Best Catering; PSAV -- Best Audio-Visual; and Topgolf -- Best Party Venue.