Stennis Celebrates 40 Years With Engine Test Firing

The Stennis Space Center in Hancock County is celebrating 40 years as a major player in our country's space program. It was on April 23, 1966 that the first test firing took place, establishing Stennis Space Center as the country's biggest engine test complex.

Two of Stennis's employees who saw the first rocket test firing for the Apollo launch say it's hard to believe that was four decades ago.

"There was a lot of publicity, a lot of official visitors and people running all over the place," Annette Moran said.

"It was a lot of excitement because the S-2 stage was what was the holdup for the Apollo mission and we were having trouble with it. And they were really pushing to get that test off and there was a lot of celebration after it was over with," Prentice Carte said.

That would be the first of many celebrations at Stennis as new technology led to more advances. From the Apollo missions emerged the shuttle program. The Stennis test stands were modified to test the Shuttle's main engines.

"Now we've got all this modern technology and the test conductors can see the data much easier than we could back in those days," Carte said.

In the early days, Carte and Moran say the whole country was fascinated with space. But since the Apollo 11 moon walk in 1969, they say interest isn't as high.

"It's still there for us. I don't think it is for the public because they've gotten accustomed to it and the only time they pay attention is when something spectacular happens," Moran said.

"I think some people think there hasn't been as much results from the first moon launch, walking on the moon, but I think, I'm hoping it will change," Carte said.

Stennis continues to test for future launches, helping meet the mission to send more astronauts to the moon and eventually to Mars and beyond.

The weather did impact Friday's festivities at Stennis Space Center. The public celebration was postponed because of the potentially severe weather.

Stennis officials have not announced a new date for the celebration, but say vehicle passes issued for the original date will remain valid when the event is rescheduled.