The recent removal of space shuttle main engine No.0525 provided an interested look at the past and future of American space exploration.
A photo of the engine being lifted from the A-2 Test Stand at NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center on Aug. 17 shows the new A-3 Test Stand under construction in the background, juxtaposing a closing era of rocket propulsion with an emerging one.
Space shuttle main engines have powered NASA's Space Shuttle Program for the past 28 years. Stennis Space Center has tested every main engine used on more than 125 shuttle missions. However, with the shuttle program set to end in 2010, Stennis conducted the last planned space shuttle main engine test on July 29 and now is removing system propellants to bring the A-2 Test Stand to a safe "standby" status. The stand later will be converted to support testing of the J-2X engine in development as part of NASA's Constellation Program to go back to the moon and possibly beyond.
At the same time, construction of the A-3 Test Stand continues in order to conduct high-altitude testing of the J-2X engine. The J-2X engine will help power the Ares I and Ares V rockets that are the centerpiece of the Constellation Program.
The new test stand will allow operators to fire the J-2X at simulated altitudes of up to 100,000 feet, a critical requirement since the engine must be able to fire in space in order to enable flights to the moon and back. Activation on the A-3 Test Stand is scheduled to begin in early 2011. Testing of the J-2X engine is set to begin on the modified A-1 Test Stand at Stennis that spring.
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