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July 18, 2006

NASA Public Affairs Office
Stennis Space Center, MS 39529-6000
(228) 688-3341


NASA Stennis Space Center will play a critical role in the agency's Constellation Program, according to managers who visited the site Thursday, July 13.

The Constellation Program is NASA's plan of work for the new spacecraft that will return humans to the moon and blaze a trail to Mars and beyond, fulfilling the Vision for Space Exploration. The centerpiece of the system is a new crew launch vehicle, Ares I, designed to boost the Crew Exploration Vehicle into orbit. The CEV will carry four astronauts to and from the moon, support up to six crewmembers on future missions to Mars and deliver crew and supplies to the International Space Station.

Constellation Program managers toured SSC's rocket engine test complex and spoke to employees about the crucial role the center will play in fulfilling America's Vision for Space Exploration.

"Our work now is in the pre-design stage," said Jeff Hanley, NASA's Constellation Program manager. "But we hope to see the first manned launch as early as 2012." He said Constellation's crew exploration vehicle is targeted to be flying by 2014.

With more than 40 years of experience in rocket propulsion testing, SSC will continue to serve in its traditional test role, taking the lead on integration for all propulsion testing. SSC is responsible for rocket propulsion testing for the upper stages of Ares I, and Constellation's cargo launch vehicle, Ares V, as well as testing the engines for Ares V's main stage.

"Half the cost of developing these vehicles goes toward the testing and certification services you already provide to the country," Hanley told employees during an all-hands meeting Thursday.

The first rocket engine to be tested will be the J-2X, an engine derived from those tested at the center 40 years ago for Apollo's Saturn V rockets. In the Constellation Program, the J-2X will be used to power the upper stages of the Ares I and Ares V.

"The J-2X is a critical path" to meeting the Constellation Program's goals, said Steve Cook, director of the Exploration Launch Projects office at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. "SSC will play a critical role in the program."

NASA has chosen Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne's RS-68 engine to power the main stage of the Ares V. Testing for Boeing's commercial applications of the RS-68 engine is under way on SSC's B-1 Test Stand.

Cook also said "SSC, Marshall and the Michoud Assembly Facility have a long, rich history of working together," an asset that will smooth development and delivery of the Ares vehicles. The Michoud facility in New Orleans is responsible for building and processing elements of the new launch systems.

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