Stennis Reopens Visitor Center - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

02/03/03

Stennis Reopens Visitor Center

StennisSphere reopened at noon Monday.

That's the NASA visitors center at Stennis Space Center, which shutdown for the weekend following the loss of the Columbia.

Like the space program itself, the popular tourist attraction is moving forward.

A line of visitors was ready when the doors opened at noon. Mondays are typically a slow day at StennisSphere. But not this Monday.

Memorials decorated the space shuttle replica outside the Hancock County visitors center. At noon, folks checked into the "Launch Pad" for their excursion to the nearby space center.

"When you're ready, our bus comes every 15 minutes to bring you back,"explained one of the clerks, as visitors checked in.

Among the tourists were two Texas visitors who witnessed the destructive plume in the Saturday sky.

"I heard a couple of booms and then my windows rattled in my house. So, I jumped up and I ran outside and saw this con trail going across the sky and it was all raggedy looking and I said, that doesn't look right," said Joseph Gooch, who lives in suburban Dallas.

A crowd filled the bus for the short trip to StennisSphere. Many planned their visit long before the Columbia's mission.

"It's interesting, very interesting. We're really enjoying what we're seeing," said Leon Jasper of Somerset, Kentucky.

Jasper especially enjoyed his chance to fly the shuttle. It's a little intimidating, even to an experienced pilot.

"I fly a Cherokee Six and of course our landing speed is about 75 to 80 miles an hour. And this is a little bit faster," Jasper admitted.

Wanda Lewallen is playing host to the Kentucky visitors.

"They were visiting us and we'd planned to come over here. We've lived here a long time and we came years ago before they set up the tourist centers they have today," she explained.

The lobby of StennisSphere features a memorial display to the seven Columbia astronauts. But even while the nation mourns and NASA investigates, there is also much talk about moving ahead with the space program.

Visitors we spoke with offered their unconditional support for NASA moving onward and upward.

"We wouldn't be where we are today if it wasn't for the space program," said H.C. Lewallen.

Co Tibergien of Pass Christian agrees.

"I think everybody should come here. I think it's something that everybody in the United States should come and see. And appreciate it," he said.

By Steve Phillips

Click here to read more about the investigation into the Columbia disaster, as well as America's reaction to the tragedy.

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