By Raiza Giorgi

Rich Fisher didn’t feel right celebrating the holidays with employees at his company, Pacific Design Technologies (PDT), as the Thomas Fire was raging in the hills above Santa Barbara and Ventura.

The Santa Ynez resident decided instead to postpone the holiday party and hosted a luncheon in late March at the Fess Parker Doubletree with actor and philanthropist Gary Sinise as the guest speaker.

The R.I.S.E. program helps Taylor Morris of Cedar Falls, Iowa, and other injured veterans and their families overcome their new life challenges by increasing their mobility.

“We were thankful that our employees were safe and we wanted to not only celebrate our company’s success but honor those that sacrifice for us on a daily basis, so we invited Gary Sinise to speak about his foundation,” Fisher said.

Fisher was excited to meet Sinise and hear him talk about the good deeds his foundation was doing, but Sinise was also eager to talk about Fisher’s company’s involvement in the Mars Rover project.

“What you are doing is amazing, and I am excited to be here. What you’re doing is really interesting, and how amazing to be a part of such an historic project,” Sinise said.

PDT, based in Goleta, specializes in developing advanced cooling and pumping systems for space, defense and commercial exploration. Its team of engineers, technicians and support staff have worked on the past three Mars explorations of Curiosity Rover and Pathfinder projects.

PDT has also help projects on the International Space Station, such as the AMS-02 Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer particle detector. The scientists on the space station study cosmic rays and evaluate them for evidence of dark matter, antimatter and other particles that telescopes can’t see.

PDT provided the mechanically pumped fluid loop that helps maintain the temperature of the detectors at the heart of the project. 

Their pumping units are used during the transit from Earth to Mars to maintain temperature of the spacecraft’s electronic systems and will also be used in the Mars 2020 project with NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“We are also working to help develop a refueling system, because none of the rover projects had enough fuel to get back. That is our next step,” Fisher said.

The company’s designs have been used by Boeing, Goodrich, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, SpaceX, the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy and a long list of others.

Sinise’s speech was a chance for the employees at PDT to see how their projects benefit military members and first responders, who are supported by the Gary Sinise Foundation during times of tragedy.

Most people recognize Sinise for his role as Lt. Dan in “Forest Gump” and for his roles in “Apollo 13” and “Of Mice and Men,” which Sinise also directed — filming some scenes at the local Gainey Ranch.

“I loved my time in the Santa Ynez Valley. It’s so beautiful, and the people were all so welcoming. We all had a great time filming there,” Sinise said.

Rodney Roberts, from left, Bill Young, Richard Fisher, Rich Densmore and Adam Mattews pose with the Mars Rover cooling system created by Pacific Design Technologies.

As he spoke before the PDT company, he said that he had been very eager to get the part as Lt. Dan in “Forest Gump.” His family has a long history of military service, participating in just about every war and conflict since World War I.

“The military and our veterans don’t get enough praise for their sacrifice, and I hope we can make just the smallest difference in their lives through my foundation. I think this is the best role I’ve had,” he said.

A few of the foundation’s projects include building specially adapted “smart homes” for America’s severely wounded veterans through the R.I.S.E. program (Restoring Independence Supporting Empowerment). Each home features automated amenities to ease the daily challenges veterans face. In addition, R.I.S.E provides adapted vehicles, mobility devices, and home modifications to injured, wounded, ill and/or aging service members from all conflicts. 

It also provides financial support and training for firefighters, police departments and EMTs through its First Responders Outreach program.

“Especially during these difficult times after the fires and flooding, it’s important to honor those that put themselves on the line every day,” Sinise said.

After Sinise was finished with his speech and video presentation, PDT presented him with a donation for his foundation.

To learn more about PDT, log onto For more about the Gary Sinise Foundation, log onto