NASA Public Affairs Office
Stennis Space Center, MS 39529-6000
On the morning of April 23, 1966, the south Mississippi silence was broken by an earth-rattling roar that swept southern Mississippi and Louisiana into the Space Age.
That roar was the sound of the first rocket engine static test-firing on the A-2 Test Stand at what is now NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center. The S-II-T tested April 23, 1966, was a cluster of five J-2 engines, the second stage of the Saturn V moon rocket.
Stennis Space Center will celebrate the 40th anniversary of that first test by inviting the public to witness the test-firing of a space shuttle main engine on Friday, April 21. Free vehicle passes admitting the public to the engine test will be distributed at various outlets and community events throughout the region, including:
- Saturday, March 25, Ocean Springs (Miss.) Herb and Garden Fest, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
- Sunday, March 26, Wal-Mart, Picayune, Miss., 12-5 p.m.
- Saturday, April 1, Northshore Mall, Slidell, La., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
- Sunday, April 2, Diamondhead (Miss.) Choice Supermarket, 1-5 p.m.
- Monday, April 3, Hancock County Library, Bay St. Louis, Miss., 1-5 p.m.
- Saturday, April 8, Edgewater Mall, Biloxi, Miss., 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
- Sunday April 9, Long Beach (Miss.) Choice Supermarket, 1-5 p.m.
The number of passes is limited. All drivers must present a valid photo I.D. to obtain a pass, and to gain access to the center on the day of the engine test.
When President John F. Kennedy made his historic 1961 announcement that the United States would put humans on the moon by the end of the decade, the plan called for a place to test the huge rocket engines that would power a rocket farther than anyone had gone before.
Mississippi's influential Sen. John C. Stennis, for whom Stennis Space Center is named, supported the selection of his home state as the place to build the rocket engine test facility. The site's water access was essential for transporting large rocket stages, components and propellants. Its vast tracts of sparsely populated land made it a prime location to play an integral role in America's space program.
At the time the Mississippi Test Facility (as it was then called) was built, it was the largest construction project in Mississippi and the second largest in the United States. Construction began in May 1963, and the center was fully operational for rocket engine testing less than three years later.
On July 20, 1969, just three years after that first test, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the lunar surface, safely transported thousands of miles by a space vehicle whose boosters were tested and proven flight-worthy in Hancock County, Miss.
Stennis Space Center's mission of testing the first and second stages of the Saturn V moon rocket for the Apollo program continued until the early 1970s. Its test stands were then modified to test all the space shuttle's main engines. Since then, all space shuttle main engines have been tested and proven flight-worthy at Stennis Space Center.
With its state-of-the-art facilities, Stennis Space Center continues to test components for future-generation launch vehicles, helping America fulfill its vision for space exploration: to return humans to the moon before the end of the next decade, paving the way for eventual journeys to Mars and beyond.
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