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Stennis blasts into the future of exploration

For many years, it has been said that you won’t be able to get to the moon without going through Hancock County. That is because of the vital role played testing rocket engines at Stennis Space Center.

Now it could be said you won’t be able to get to the moon or Mars without going through Hancock County. Groundbreaking ceremonies were held August 23 for a new $175-million rocket engine test stand that will provide altitude testing for the J-2X engine, which will power the upper stages of NASA’s Ares I and Ares V rockets being developed as part of NASA’s Constellation Program that plans to return to the moon, and also explore Mars.

“The engines that will propel man to new worlds will be tested right here at Stennis, and that’s something Mississippians should be very proud of,” said U.S. Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.). “Stennis Space Center is probably Mississippi’s best kept secret. The capabilities that Stennis offers for NASA and for private aerospace companies who’re seeking to expand the boundaries of technology are truly amazing. That’s why more and more companies are coming to Stennis and creating good, high-tech jobs there. It’s a story we should tell.”

Groundbreakings are about new beginnings, says NASA Deputy Administrator Shana Dale.

“The first stand was erected at Stennis to test the Saturn V rocket of the Apollo program,” Dale said. “Testing of the Space Shuttle engines began here in the mid-1970s. And today, we’re breaking ground for a new test stand, for the new spacecraft of a new era of exploration.”

Patrick Scheuermann, associate director at Stennis Space Center, says the new test stand is a strategic investment so Stennis will continue to play the vital role it has had since the1960s.

“This is another 30-year commitment for NASA to do its rocket engine testing in South Mississippi,” Scheuermann says. “I think it sends an important message to the nation and certainly the local community that NASA is here to stay.

“This represents a long term-commitment from NASA to a whole new generation to have opportunities to come out here and work. We aren’t shutting the base down and walking away.”

Also present at the groundbreaking were a host of state and federal politicians including Gov. Haley Barbour, Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Lott and Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.). Also participating were NASA associate administrator for exploration systems Scott Horowitz and Stennis Center director Richard Gilbrech. Gibrech was recently named to succeed Horowitz.

The Ares I and Ares V rockets are being developed as part of NASA’s Constellation Program whose goals include used to sending astronauts to the International Space Station, returning humans to the moon and eventual exploration of Mars.

“This is our generation’s turn, our time to go to the moon,” Gilbrech says. “NASA has ambitious plans for astronauts to set up a lunar outpost in preparation for eventual journeys to Mars. One of the key steps is building the A-3 test stand. The J-2X engine has a unique set of test requirements. The best way to meet them is with the A-3. The testing heritage of Stennis was a key contributor in the agency’s decision to build the new A-3 stand for J-2X testing. We will not be able to accomplish these goals for the nation without the skilled workforce and unique capabilities of the Stennis and Michoud facilities.”

The development is good news for future job security at Stennis Space Center.

Between the Apollo and the Space Shuttle, there was a downturn in employment because there was a big gap between the end of the Apollo program and the beginning of the shuttle program. The Space Shuttle retires in 2010. There would have been a lag in employment at Stennis if it were not for the new test stand.

Glade Woods, president of Partners for Stennis, says the new test stand is going to keep steady employment at Stennis during the transition from the two programs, and continue that for many years to come.

“I’ve been associated with Stennis since it was first developed in the Apollo program and this is one of the biggest investments in the test stand program since the Apollo program here at Stennis in the 1960s,” Woods says. “We are just delighted and appreciate the Mississippi congressional leaders who have planned for this. This is a major milestone with this type of expenditure to add to the infrastructure at Stennis Space Center.”

This facility will be the only place in the nation where the large scale rocket engines can be tested.

“This means so much to have the added capability for rocket testing for the future of the man’s flight program going to the moon and eventually Mars,” Woods said. “It is a real jewel, and we certainly want to thank our congressional delegations and NASA leader for planning ahead to keep South Mississippi on map ahead for decades to come. This is some far sighted planning.”

Woods says Stennis is vital to the economy of South Mississippi with an economic impact in a 50-mile radius estimated at $530 million per year. This new rocket stand is a major step in continuing the Stennis impact.

The new 300-foot-tall A-3 test stand with an open steel frame structure will be the first new large test stand to be built at Stennis since it opened in the 1960s. The facility, located on a 19-acre site in Stennis’ A Complex, will include a test control center, propellant barge docks and access roadways. The test stand will allow engineers to simulate conditions at different altitudes by generating steam to reduce pressure in the test cell. Testing on the A-3 stand is scheduled to begin in late 2010.

In November 2006, Stennis’ existing A-1 stand was handed over to the Constellation Program for testing the J-2X engine. Tests on J-2X components are set to begin later in 2007. Dale says the engines will be assembled at Stennis, and then subjected to rigorous, expert testi

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.ng.

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