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August 17, 2006

NASA Public Affairs Office
Stennis Space Center, MS 39529-6000
(228) 688-3333


The A-1 Test Stand at NASA's Stennis Space Center, Miss. marked a historic moment Thursday, Aug. 17 as the 1,000th test of a space shuttle main engine was conducted on that facility.

In October, the A-1 Test Stand will be converted to begin the next phase of its distinguished history: testing the J-2X engine. The engine is a modification of the Apollo Program's J-2  that helped take the first Americans to the moon. The J-2s were also tested at Stennis.

Stennis will also test the J-2X and RS-68 rocket engines for NASA's new spacecraft, Ares I and Ares V. These crew and cargo launch vehicles will replace the space shuttle as NASA's craft for human space exploration. NASA will retire the space shuttle by 2010.

Meanwhile, NASA's remaining 16 scheduled space shuttle missions each will require three main engines to reach orbit. Stennis will continue to test the engines on its A-2 Test Stand, according to Don Beckmeyer, space shuttle main engine project manager in the Test Projects Office of Stennis' Project Directorate. 

"We're driving ahead with our assignments," Beckmeyer said. It's critical to meet every deadline along the way "for scheduling propellant deliveries, for support systems, to have everything coordinated in order to maintain the test schedule," he added.

For more than 30 years, the SSME has been the world's only reusable large rocket engine rated for human space flight. It has produced some staggering statistics as it powered NASA's low-Earth orbiter on its flights. For example, each SSME:

  • Exerts 418,000 pounds of thrust at sea level
  • Weighs 7,774 pounds
  • Is fueled by liquid hydrogen, the second-coldest liquid on Earth (minus 423°F)
  • Consumes roughly 21,000 gallons of fuel each minute
  • Generates temperatures hotter than the boiling point of iron (6,000°F) in its main combustion chamber
  • Operates at greater temperature extremes than any other mechanical system in common use today.

Since 1975, all SSMEs have been tested and proven flight-worthy at Stennis. The thousand tests conducted on Stennis' A-1 stand have been crucial to the flight record of the powerful engines. In the 115 launches logged by the shuttle fleet, no main engine has ever experienced a major anomaly.

The test stand was built in the 1960s to test the stages of the Apollo Program's rocket engines. The A-1 and sister stand A-2 were modified in the 1970s to test-fire and prove flightworthy all space shuttle main engines.

Leland English was the test conductor for the first 40 SSME tests performed at Stennis' Test Complex. Now retired, the Utah resident said it took a lot of work to get the stands ready for testing the shuttle's main engines.

"I was just as excited then as we all were during the run-up to Apollo," English said, "because we worked so hard getting that facility ready."

Brian Childers, an employee of Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne at Stennis, was the test conductor for Thursday's test. He is also lead test engineer for the A-1 stand, which will make him an integral part of the stand's upcoming metamorphosis.

Childers, part of a generation of engineers who have benefited from their predecessors' zeal, believes Stennis' new work assignment will fan the flames of public enthusiasm for the nation's space program.

"I look forward to America going back to the moon," Childers said. "The goal to go to Mars is something for everybody to shoot for." 

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