NASA administrator: Stennis to play ‘key role’ in future space programs

HANCOCK COUNTY — Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) has expressed his readiness to work with his Senate colleagues and NASA officials to advance the new Space Launch System and the heavy-lift rocket engine tests the program will require.

At a hearing this week to review the FY2013 budget request for NASA, Cochran encouraged NASA administrator Charles Bolden to provide Congress with timely updates on funding requirements to move the initiative forward.

“We are really proud that Mississippi has had a very conspicuous role to play in our nation’s space flight efforts, specifically being home to the testing to support the missions of NASA up to this point. I expect that the Stennis Space Center will play a big role in NASA’s future,” Cochran said. “I am hopeful that we will have enough advanced notice and advice on NASA’s plans so that we can be supportive and helpful.”

Last September, NASA announced that it was opting to develop an evolvable Space Launch System that would involve testing for new heavy-lift rockets needed for future manned space exploration.

In response to Cochran, Bolden said the Stennis Space Center would play “a key role in the future of NASA, whether it is with NASA engine testing and development or commercial testing and development.”

Bolden told Cochran that NASA is close to completing a report required by Congress that details the agency’s plans to reuse and rehabilitate NASA-owned systems-level rocket test facilities, such as the B-2 test stand at Stennis Space Center. The congressional directive also expects the report to include more detailed plans for systems-level testing of the Space Launch System, an evaluation of potential commercial uses and a description of resources needed.

Bolden said the report “will give us definitive answers” on the resources and funding needed to utilize and rehabilitate NASA rocket test facilities.

At a hearing in April 2011 on future NASA budgets, Cochran received assurances from Bolden that NASA would continue investments at Stennis to complete the A-3 test stand to facilitate rocket engine tests for exploration beyond Low Earth Orbit as well as other test stand infrastructure, such as the B-2 stand, for potential commercial and other engine trials. In addition, Cochran toured the A-3 and B-2 facilities at Stennis with NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver in August of last year.

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