For NASA, 2010 was a year of change as the agency began a re-focus of its work and mission. For John C. Stennis Space Center, the year included change as well as reaffirmation of its core mission.
The south Mississippi facility saw its share of changes with the introduction of new leaders and other milestone events. However, Stennis also continued to move ahead with its primary work – testing rocket engines for the nation's space program.
"Looking back, we will remember 2010 as a pivotal point for Stennis," said Director Patrick Scheuermann, who assumed his leadership role early in the year. "It was a time of preparation for the next focus of America's space program and a time of embarking on a new direction for NASA."
A new engine. In 2010, Stennis led the way in working with commercial companies to develop space travel capabilities by partnering with Orbital Sciences Corporation to test Aerojet AJ26 engines that will power commercial cargo flights to the International Space Station.
The partnership involved large-scale modifications to Stennis' E-1 Test Stand that lasted much of the year. On Nov. 10, modifications complete, Stennis operators conducted a 10-second hotfire of an AJ26 engine, the first in a series of three verification tests, before beginning full duration firings.
A-3 Test Stand. The A-3 Test Stand being built to provide simulated high-altitude testing of next-generation rocket engines marked several construction milestones in 2010. Installation of the stand's test cell and diffuser began. Large liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen tanks were delivered. Work also progressed on support facilities, installation of gaseous nitrogen bottles, and the water delivery system needed to service the stand. The new stand is set for activation in 2012. When complete, it will allow engine testing at simulated altitudes up to 100,000 feet, a critical need for engines that will carry humans beyond into deep space once more.
Test stand modifications. Engineers on Stennis' A-1 and A-2 test stands engaged in major maintenance and modification work to prepare the structures for testing the next-generation J-2X rocket engine in development. A host of mechanical and technical aspects of each stand must be modified from the space shuttle main engine parameters to test the new engine. Both stands are scheduled to begin testing J-2X components and engines in 2011.
E Test Complex. The E Test Complex proved its versatility again in 2010. Engineers in the complex used the E-1 stand for testing AJ26 engines. They also prepared the E-2 stand for early testing of the chemical steam generation units that will be used on the A-3 Test Stand for simulated high-altitude testing. At the E-3 stand, engineers continued sub-scale diffuser testing in support of the A-3 project and also conducted launch acoustics testing that provided important data for construction of future space vehicles.
Applied Science. Stennis' Applied Science and Technology Project Office continued to provide important research and technology support to Gulf Coast protection and restoration work. The value of the office was highlighted during the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, when Stennis helped formulate NASA's response to the crisis, monitored coastal ecosystems for damage and assisted a range of other agencies as they addressed the issue. The office continues to support more than a dozen ongoing research projects to support the Gulf region, with more in the works.
Leadership for the future. The past year saw a new leadership team take shape at Stennis. Former Deputy Director Scheuermann was named director in February. Former Associate Director Rick Gilbrech was named deputy director in April. The following month, former Stennis employee Ken Human returned to the facility as associate director.
Celebrating the past. In April, NASA – and the Stennis community – celebrated one of the greatest sagas of the American space program, the Apollo 13 lunar mission that has been characterized as one of NASA's finest hours. Astronaut Fred Haise, a Biloxi native, visited Stennis to mark the 40th anniversary of the mission and recount his experiences on the flight, which was crippled by an explosion in space and forced to make a perilous trip around the moon and back to Earth.
Legends Lecture Series. In November, the Stennis community kicked off a yearlong celebration of the facility's 50th anniversary by welcoming back three former leaders. The trio dialogued with various groups and recounted their experiences with the space shuttle main engine test project. Additional lecture sessions are planned, with the celebration culminating in October 2011. NASA publicly announced plans to build a rocket engine testing facility at the south Mississippi site Oct. 25, 1961.
Upgrading infrastructure. In 2010, Stennis dedicated a new Records Retention Facility to consolidate and protect facility records. It installed new liquid oxygen pumps on propellant barges, replacing older, less efficient pumps that had been used since the 1960s. It completed total rebuilds of security gates to enhance center appearance and increase the safety of Stennis employees. It also awarded a contract to expand state Route 607 onsite from two lanes to four, providing a valuable future hurricane evacuation route for Gulf Coast residents .
Milestones. The Stennis community marked numerous milestones in 2010. Construction on the new INFINITY Science Center moved ahead, with a "topping out" ceremony held in mid-November. The Public Affairs Office continued a range of outreach efforts across Mississippi and Louisiana, while the Education Office continued longstanding outreach efforts like Astro Camp and annual FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) LEGO and Robotics competitions. The Education Office also opened a new Educator Resource Center onsite and produced its first-ever curriculums, a Mass vs. Weight study and a Science and Sports package that included a challenge for students to design games that could be played on the International Space Station.
For information about Stennis Space Center, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/stennis/.
- end -