October 25 marks the 60th anniversary of NASA’s announcement to establish a national rocket motor test site in southern Mississippi. In fact, I was born a month after that historic announcement, so it’s easy for me to keep track of Stennis’ birthdays.
While construction was underway in the early 1960s, famous rocket scientist Dr Wernher von Braun affirmed the importance of the new test facilities, saying: âI don’t know yet which method we will use to. go to the moon, but I know you have to go through the Mississippi to get there! Almost 60 years later, I am proud to lead the workforce that has become a model federal city and is once again at the forefront of NASA’s Critical Path to the Moon.
Since the 1960s, the US manned space program has flown on rocket systems and engines tested at Stennis. The first and second stages of the Saturn V rocket for NASA’s Apollo program were tested at Stennis, including those that propelled humans to the moon on seven lunar missions from 1969 to 1972. Stennis engineers performed the very first rocket motor test at the facility on April 23, 1966, a 15-second shot of a second-stage prototype of the Saturn V (S-II-C). In the following years of the Apollo program, Stennis engineers carried out 43 test shots on 27 Saturn V rocket stages. Everything that was launched went off without a single failure.
Following the Apollo program, Stennis was tasked with testing the main engines needed to power the reusable space shuttle fleet. Stennis engineers performed the first total life test of a Space Shuttle Main Engine on June 24, 1975. Over the next 34 years, every main engine used on 135 Space Shuttle flights was tested at Stennis.
Prior to the first space shuttle launch, Stennis also performed tests on the spacecraft’s main propulsion test item. For these tests, three main engines were configured as on a space shuttle orbiter during flight. Starting in April 1978, Stennis operators performed tests by firing all three main engines simultaneously on the B-2 test stand to prove that the shuttle’s propulsion system was in flight condition.
A testament to Stennis’ expertise, major tests of the propulsion system at Stennis enabled astronauts to climb onto the very first Space Shuttle Columbia launch in April 1981. Following this successful inaugural mission, Columbia astronauts John Young and Robert Crippen visited Stennis to congratulate the employees on their testing work. âJohn and I had to sit down and roll around,â Crippen noted. âWe couldn’t even make it difficult. “
Stennis has a reputation for taking on – and getting through – such tough testing challenges. In 2018, for example, site staff once again demonstrated their know-how by partnering with others to perform 10 unprecedented large engine tests over a 240-hour period. It was a remarkable and historic testing campaign.
Most recently, Stennis performed frontline testing for NASA’s new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. The site has been testing RS-25 engines to help power SLS since January 2015. In 2020, it began a series of Green Run tests of the SLS main first stage, culminating with a hot fire of the four RS-25 engines on the stage. on March 18, 2021. The blazing fire marked the most powerful test at Stennis in over 40 years. The main stage of SLS is now being prepared for the launch of NASA’s inaugural Artemis program mission, which will bring humans, including the first woman and the first person of color to the moon, and help prepare d ‘possible missions to Mars.
Since 1999, the Stennis Space Center has also been a leader and model of partnering with companies to provide commercial space flights. From 1999 to 2021, Aerojet Rocketdyne (formerly Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne) tested the RS-68 engines of the Delta IV rocket on the B-1 test stand. Many other companies have partnered with the site as well, including SpaceX, Relativity Space, Stratolauncher, Blue Origin, Virgin Orbit, Launcher, and Firehawk, to name a few.
For 60+ years, the Stennis Space Center has been a major economic force, positively impacting NASA and the Gulf Coast region. Home to more than 40 resident agencies and a diverse workforce of more than 5,000 employees, Stennis remains a unique federal city and a model of government efficiency.
I often think of how lucky I am to work with some of the most resilient, compassionate, and experienced people at NASA. The Stennis team takes up every challenge with vigor and enthusiasm. We have proven time and time again that natural disasters or even a global pandemic cannot stop us from accomplishing our mission.
Our history is rich and our future is brighter as we continue to dream of the Moon – and beyond. Join us on a journey to the next 60 years!