HANCOCK COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Those who visited StenniSphere Thursday are anxiously counting down the hours. They will be watching Friday morning, as the Shuttle Atlantis blasts off into orbit and into the history books.
"I've never seen one go off," said 11-year-old Alex McCurdy.
"Just to see how it works and stuff, how it goes up into space," said 14-year-old Brad Walley.
The final shuttle mission brings back fond memories for Annette Richard of Bay St. Louis. She was here when Stennis opened and remembers witnessing three shuttle engine tests at the Hancock County facility.
Stennis has tested every main engine used on all 134 shuttle missions. On Friday, it will be the 135th and final flight.
"To see the big billows of steam, it's just incredible," said Richard. "And to feel the rumbling, the sounds, it amazes me what man has been able to do."
Richard plans to host a shuttle viewing party to share her fascination with space with her grandchildren.
"It's very historic, and I'm excited I'm able to share it with family, just as I did as a child experiencing it with my family," said Richard.
Matthew Scott represents every one who had ever dreamed of donning a space suit and rocketing into the heavens.
"Discovering a new planet mainly," said Scott, who wanted to be an astronaut. "No, it didn't happen. I just went over to criminal justice."
The shuttle program's legacy will live on at Stennis. It continues to spark excitement and wonder, as Stennis prepares to test the next generation of engines that could propel man back to the moon and even beyond.
"Another part of our space program is ending. A new part is opening," said Richard. "These kids are young enough to where they can be a part of it in the future. Who knows, I may have a grandkid that goes to Mars."
If you'd like to view the last launch at Stennis, park at the visitor's center off I-10 at Exit 2. The center opens at 9 a.m. Friday. You will be transported to Stennisphere. Be sure to get there in time for the 10:26 a.m. launch. The last bus will leave at 10 a.m.