America’s space program is preparing to enter a new phase that will carry astronauts back to the moon and to the planet Mars. They will, however, still have to go through Mississippi to get there. That’s the good word coming from the Stennis Space Center (SSC) in Hancock County as NASA celebrates its 50th anniversary with a look back and a look to the future.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration marks five decades later this year. No history of the scientific and technological agency is complete without including the role of SSC in America’s space program. The federal agency and other entities at the huge site have also left their mark on the area’s economy.
“Within a 50-mile radius, there is a $622-million impact to the economy each year with what goes on here,” said Stennis Director Bob Cabana. “It is truly a federal agency with 30 different entities here.”
Gov. Haley Barbour noted that the road to the moon ran through Mississippi, and that the road to space exploration will do the same, in addition to many projects in the fields of science and high technology.
“For more than 45 years, the John C. Stennis Space Center has been a place where some of the world’s brightest minds gather to test the limits of human imagination and creativity,” he said. “The center is more than a source of jobs that improve the quality of life and the Coast’s economic picture, although it surely does that.
“Like its namesake, the Stennis Space Center sets the highest possible standards and then impresses us again when it exceeds them. Mississippi is very fortunate to be home to such a place.”
Cabana says the facility’s future is solid, and it will have a smooth transition into NASA’s next phase as the space shuttle program ends. A new fleet of launch vehicles is transitioning to take the shuttle’s place, and SSC is preparing to test the rocket engines that will power this next generation of spacecraft, named Orion.
“We broke ground last August for the first engine test stand that’s been built since the Apollo program,” Cabana said. “High-altitude engines for the Orion program will be tested here. All engines in the space program were tested and proven flight worthy here before being launched. The space program’s founder, Dr. Werner von Braun, said he didn’t know how we’d get to space but we’d have to go through Mississippi first, and that will continue. We’re extremely excited about our impact on NASA.”
There is tremendous support for Stennis Space Center in the surrounding communities. “Without Stennis we would lose many jobs and a big boost to the economy,” said Tish Williams of the Hancock County Chamber of Commerce. “The space center is a significant source of employment and income in the region with direct and indirect effects. A conservative estimate of jobs is more than 19,500.”
In 1994, the Chamber founded Partners for Stennis with Bay St. Louis insurance agent Dave Truetel as chairman. Because he believes in the group’s mission so strongly, he has never rotated off the board of directors.
“It’s actually a federal city there, and we’ve been able to weave a partnership between all the entities,” he said. “It benefits the area with high-paying technical jobs, increased education and great business spin offs.”
Cabana says his goal is to grow SSC but not just for NASA. “I’d like to see us bring new agencies and business in,” he said. “We have a business incubator here to create technical jobs for the Gulf Coast. I don’t see a significant job change for the space center. It will stay roughly the same, but we will grow the resident agencies here.”
Of the total 4,839 employees at the test site, 22% live in Louisiana and the rest are Mississippi reside
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.