HANCOCK COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - NASA astronauts say the future of Stennis Space Center is solid. In fact, Atlantis Commander Chris Ferguson says Thursday that Stennis has the brightest future of all NASA installations because it is preparing to test the next generation of space rockets.
Thursday morning, members of the final shuttle crew visited the men and women at the Hancock County facility where there were "thank-yous" all around.
The four astronauts who made America's final trip into space aboard a space shuttle are used to cheers and accolades. But on this trip, the crew of Atlantis wanted to do some cheering for the rocket team at Stennis Space Center.
"We wanted to thank you," Flight Commander Chris Ferguson said. "The space shuttle SSME that you've tested and operated here for probably 35 years is one of the true success stories of the space shuttle program."
Since 1975, more than 2,000 space shuttle main engines, or SSMEs, have been given the once over at Stennis.
"I've heard the SSME referred to as a 7,000 pound Swiss watch. And if you look at it and the operating temperatures and pressures which it runs, it is an incredible piece of machinery," Ferguson said.
"Without those engines, we're not getting to orbit, frankly," said Flight Pilot Doug Hurley. "You can feel those engines as they go through full swings at the back of the orbiter. You can defiantly feel it. And that's the first time you really think, 'Wow, we might be going some place.'"
Knowing they're among a select few to experience the thrill of space flight, the astronauts tried to give the ground team a sense of the beauty they saw.
"You look out the window and you can see a thousand miles in any direction. And you travel over an area like the Middle East, which is riddled with conflict, that's one of the most beautiful places from space. So it's just so spectacular and it looks so peaceful, but you know it's not peaceful. And I could even see the Gaza Strip," Astronaut Rex Walheim said.
"Flawless 135 flights and every one of you in here should be very proud of those engines and what they've done," said Shuttle Pilot Hurley.
The Space Shuttle Atlantis will remain at the Kennedy Space Center where it will be on public display.