Shuttle astronauts thanks Stennis employees

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

HANCOCK COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Two astronauts from a recent space shuttle mission spoke to employees at Stennis Space Center Tuesday.

Crew members from STS-126 shared highlights of their Thanksgiving week trip to the International Space Station. They also expressed an optimistic outlook for the space program's future under a new administration.

Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper told the crowd of Stennis employees that she's among the lucky ones who gets to take a trip on the shuttle, but there are thousands of "behind the scenes" workers who make it possible.

"I'd just like to say thank you. You guys did a great job. The main engines worked as advertised. We had no anomalies," she told the crowd.

Those main engines lifted the Shuttle Endeavor into orbit in late November, right around Thanksgiving.

Captain Stefanyshyn-Piper says improved video capabilities were a part of STS-126.

"We were one of the first shuttle flights to fly high definition cameras inside the cabin," she explained.

That advanced video provided some spectacular pictures from orbit and a visual diary of the onboard work schedule.

"Once we get in orbit, one of the first things we have to get busy doing is opening up the payload doors," she said.

NASA is phasing out the shuttle program; developing a new space vehicle. The commander of STS-126 is confident the Obama administration will recognize the significance of continued support for the space program.

"Energy for example. Energy is going to be an issue that will last into the next millennium. We're going to have to find cheap ways to generate power. And we're going to do that with the engineers that were spurred on through the interest they had in the space program when they were in middle school and high school," said Commander Christopher Ferguson.

The shuttle mission included installing some new equipment onboard the space station. Commander Ferguson says NASA can be on the cutting edge of helping America "go green".

"What's on the international space station is a regenerative eco system. This is a closed loop system that basically takes polluted water, which is urine, and turns it into drinking water within 24 hours. If that's not green, I don't know what is," said the commander.

Both astronauts thanked Stennis employees for their contribution in making the mission a success.