NASA Administrator Charles Bolden visited Stennis Space Center in Mississippi Wednesday to welcome employees back to work after the U.S. government shutdown and thank them for their ongoing commitment to the nation’s space program.
Bolden held separate meetings with Stennis and NASA Shared Services Center (NSSC) employees. At Stennis, he also toured the B-2 Test Stand, which is being prepared to test the core stage of NASA’s new Space Launch System (SLS). NASA is building the SLS to carry humans deeper into space than ever before.
"Stennis continues to demonstrate that the road to space goes through Mississippi," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. "I applaud the center's continued work to help bring about a new era of exploration through its commercial partnerships and the ongoing essential work it does for us in testing new propulsion systems. I also salute the personnel of the NASA Shared Services Center, housed at Stennis, for the superb contingency support they provided the agency during the recent government shutdown. It's my pleasure to visit the Stennis and NSSC workforces and thank them for holding the fort during the shutdown and ensuring our forward progress."
Stennis employees returned to work Oct. 17 following a 16-day furlough. Their focus quickly returned to efforts critical to the future of American space exploration.
"It always is an honor to host the NASA administrator," Stennis Director Rick Gilbrech said. "We deeply appreciate his affirmation of our team and its support of NASA’s deep-space and commercial spaceflight initiatives and pledge ourselves to ongoing excellence in all those efforts."
"We have always understood the work provided by the NASA Shared Services Center is crucial to the agency's mission," said NSSC Executive Director Michael Smith. "However, situations like the recent furlough shed a spotlight on the hard work and dedication of NSSC employees who stop at nothing to get the job done, even under strenuous circumstances."
Bolden’s visit came the day a new commercial engine test agreement for Stennis was announced. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant announced the Mississippi Development Authority has entered into agreement with Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) to provide initial testing of the company’s Raptor methane rocket engines at Stennis. Testing is expected to begin in early 2014.
Along with this new commercial testing, Stennis is continuing to test Aerojet Rocketdyne AJ26 rocket engines for Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., which has partnered with NASA to provide commercial cargo flights to the International Space Station. Orbital’s maiden flight to the space station launched from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia Sept. 18. Orbital's Antares rocket was powered by a pair of AJ26 engines -- E9 and E12 -- tested at Stennis May 3, 2012 and Jan. 18, respectively.
Orbital’s Cygnus capsule connected to the space station Sept. 30. It detached from the space station successfully Tuesday after completing delivery of its cargo. Orbital has a contract through NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services initiative to launch eight cargo missions to the space station.
Other companies also have tested their propulsion systems at Stennis. Blue Origin has conducted testing at the center's E-1 Test Stand. Stennis also has leased the B-1 Test Stand to Aerojet Rocketdyne for testing of its RS-68 engine. The RS-68 in a Delta IV heavy-lift rocket will power the first flight test of NASA's Orion multipurpose crew vehicle in 2014.
In addition to this commercial testing, the A-1 Test Stand at Stennis is being readied to test the RS-25 engine that will power the SLS. The B-2 Test Stand also is being modified to test the SLS core stage, which will involve firing four RS-25 engines simultaneously
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