John C. Stennis Space Center launched a yearlong 50th anniversary celebration Nov. 9 with the first presentation in its Legends Lecture Series, in which former NASA leaders reflect on past work at the facility.
"There is no better way to celebrate 50 years of excellence at Stennis than to honor the leaders – the legends – who brought us to this point and to embrace the lessons they provide," Stennis Director Patrick Scheuermann said. "Stennis has established itself as the nation's premier rocket engine test facility because of the commitment and dedication of these leaders and so many more. Even as we celebrate that history, we continue to build on our legacy, thanks to the commitment and dedication of countless others."
Former leaders reflecting on the emergence of Stennis as a center of excellence during the first of several planned lecture series sessions were: Jerry Hlass, former Stennis Space Center director; George Hopson, former Space Shuttle Main Engine Project manager; and J.R. Thompson, former NASA deputy administrator.
NASA's public announcement of Hancock County, Miss., as the site for a new rocket engine test facility came on Oct. 25, 1961. Almost five decades later, three former NASA leaders returned to the facility to offer remembrances about their work. The leaders particularly focused on the transition of NASA from Apollo lunar missions to low-Earth orbit space shuttle missions during the 1970s.
Stennis Space Center played an integral role in each space program. The Mississippi facility tested all of the engines used on 11 manned Apollo missions, including six missions that landed on the moon. The facility then re-tooled to test all main engines used on more than 130 space shuttle missions to date.
The Space Shuttle Program is scheduled to end by the close of 2011, so Stennis now is in another transition period, preparing to test next-generation rocket engines that once more will carry humans beyond low-Earth orbit to deep space destinations, such as near-Earth asteroids, the moon or elsewhere. Work includes modifying two rocket engine test stands and building a new simulated high-altitude stand.
Even as those preparations continue, the Stennis community is reflecting on five decades of work that saw its facility emerge as the nation's premier rocket engine test site. Fifty years ago, it was said that however America traveled to the moon, it had to go through south Mississippi. Fifty years later, the same is being said once more – regardless of destination in space, the path leads through Stennis Space Center.
Hopson especially emphasized the importance of the space shuttle main engine testing conducted at Stennis. "We've flown some 400 successful engine flights and it's because of the testing you do here," he said. "I can't tell you how much I respect you and what you do. If we didn't have something like Stennis testing engines, I wouldn't want to be manager of the engine project."
Hlass and Thompson echoed the assessment. Thompson particularly cited the rigorous testing performed on the space shuttle main engine as key to its record of performance. "The engineering (of the engine) was superb, but I think the real heart of its success was the testing program," he said. "You people played a tremendous role in the space shuttle main engine project, and I think you have a tremendous role to play today."
Additional lecture series presentations will be held during the upcoming year, featuring various segments of the Stennis work force, such as engineers and support personnel. Other activities commemorating the 50th anniversary year also are being planned.
For information about Stennis Space Center, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/stennis/.
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