On July 20, we recognized a pivotal moment in my life, the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission that landed the first humans on the Moon. It is one of the most extraordinary feats of humankind, an embodiment of ingenuity and desire for exploration. As a child of the Apollo generation, I know firsthand the excitement of the nation when at the age of seven, I witnessed Americans and the world rally together with enthusiasm for mankind’s first steps on another heavenly body. That event set my life onto a new and unalterable path to work for NASA and be part of human exploration. Stennis Space Center played a critical role in my career and in that historic accomplishment.
Stennis was built to test the very rocket stages that launched those first humans to the Moon. On April 23, 1966, the site conducted its first test of Saturn V rocket stage on the A-2 Test Stand. Mississippi had officially entered the Space Age, and our nation was on its way to the Moon.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced on July 25 that Stennis will test the Space Launch System core stage, also known as “Green Run test,” as previously planned. The agency conducted a thorough analysis of the core stage test, and Stennis weighed in on the analysis. We’re very excited about the decision to continue with the test. Our Mississippi delegations in Washington D.C. praised this decision, reinforcing Mississippi’s vital role in human space exploration. We have been preparing with upgrades and modifications to the B-2 Test Stand, high pressure industrial water system and gas facility. With all modifications complete, Stennis is ready to test the core stage and support the agency in whatever way needed – just as we have for 58 years.
Our predecessors faced many challenges 61 years ago when they were establishing NASA and developing a space program. They were relentless in achieving the required results for mission success. The Stennis employees were no different. Even when faced with new tasks that had never been attempted, like putting a human on the Moon for the first time in history, our employees rose to the challenge every time. Working long hours, holidays, weekends and through harsh weather conditions to ensure success demonstrated the level of tenacity of our employees. Mississippi is one of the few states that have had their footprints in the space program since the early days.
Stennis has tested NASA’s rocket engines, stages and components since that early April morning in 1966. After the Apollo Program ended, the center tested the space shuttle main engines for 34 years, concluding in 2009. In 2015, we began testing RS-25 engines for NASA’s new Artemis Program to send humans forward to the Moon and, ultimately, carry them on to Mars. Artemis is the name of NASA’s program to return astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024, including the first woman and the next man. When they land, our American astronauts will step foot where no human has ever been before: the Moon’s South Pole. We are the Artemis generation, and everyone should be excited for our country and our spacefaring international partners.
Stennis will continue to test the RS-25 engines that will be used to power the new Space Launch System rocket on its Artemis missions. In 2020, we will be testing the SLS core stage. Working with U.S. companies and international partners, NASA will push the boundaries of human exploration forward to the Moon for this program. As a result of Artemis, NASA will be able to establish a sustainable human presence on the Moon by 2028 to uncover new scientific discoveries, demonstrate new technological advancements and lay the foundation for private companies to build a lunar economy.
Once more, it is an assignment of considerable difficulty and challenge. However, Stennis employees are responding – and will continue to respond – with the commitment and ingenuity needed for mission success. Just as it did 50 years ago, this nation will travel to the Moon and deep space through south Mississippi.
Stennis continues to make history – from that first test 53 years ago to today as humans prepare to travel deeper into space than ever before. I ask you to join with us at Stennis in the enthusiasm and American spirit as we go forward to the Moon – and beyond!
For more information about Stennis Space Center, visit:
» Dr. Rick Gilbrech has served as director of NASA’s Stennis Space Center since 2012, after serving in the same role in 2006-7. As director, he is responsible for implementing NASA’s world-class rocket propulsion test program. He also provides executive leadership, direction and management of a federal center home to more than 5,000 employees and 50 federal, state, academic and private organizations and companies.
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