HANCOCK COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - A big announcement from NASA Wednesday is great news for the long term future of Stennis Space Center.
Leaders with America's space program announced design plans for the largest, most powerful rocket in the world. And engines for that new rocket will be tested here in South Mississippi.
It's called the Space Launch System, a powerful rocket that could one day take astronauts to Mars. Initial estimates show the rocket program will cost about $35 billion to develop, with the first unmanned test flight scheduled for 2017.
Engines that will propel that rocket into deep space, will all be tested at Stennis.
"This new decision with the space launch system will secure this place and our prime mission for the next 30 to 40 years," said Stennis Director Patrick Scheuermann.
Engine test stands will once again roar to life as Stennis continues its main mission of rocket propulsion testing.
Updated versions of the shuttle main engine will provide the initial lift power for the new rocket, along with the J2X engine which Stennis has already begun testing.
"We've been doing J2X engine testing on the A2 test stand here since the mid-summer. Been very successful with that and very proud that we're on the front end of the critical path that will lead to us leaving earth to go into deep space," said the director.
The new Space Launch Program also means long term security for high tech jobs at Stennis.
Engineers, technicians, administrators and logistics personnel will all play a role in moving forward with the critical engine testing of the new rocket.
Some have criticized the Obama administration for delaying the development of this next phase of space exploration. The Stennis director says NASA is known for "doing the impossible."
"So we want to make sure when we embark on a course, we know when we have the technical requirements set and we know we've done as best we can from a resource investment to make sure when we start this program, it's something that's going to be flying soon," said Scheuermann.
Scheuermann says he's hopeful the new program, with its long term goal of reaching Mars, will inspire the next generation.
"Now we'll be reaching beyond the moon, on our way to Mars and hopefully some of the folks in elementary school now will be inspired to be one of the astronauts that will set foot on Mars with engines that are fired here at Stennis Space Center," said the Stennis director.