Blast From the Past: Stennis Space Center celebrates 60th anniversary with a look back in time

NASA publicly announced plans to open a rocket engine test facility on October 25th, 1961.
Published: Oct. 24, 2021 at 8:12 PM CDT
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HANCOCK COUNTY, Miss. (WLOX) - NASA publicly announced plans to open a rocket engine test facility on October 25, 1961, putting South Mississippi on the world stage as it literally boosted the United States into space.

Apollo 11 launched in 1969, putting people on the moon for the first time. Many people had a hand in making that mission happen, including Steve Taylor’s father.

“My dad started here (at Stennis Space Center) in about 1966. I was about two years old and he worked here until about 1995,” said Taylor, who is now an deputy chief engineer with NASA.

Taylor’s father helped test Apollo’s engines at what was then the Mississippi Test Operations site. In 1988, it was officially named Stennis Space Center after Mississippi senator and space program supporter John C. Stennis.

“My family’s been involved, I guess you could say, for a long time,” Taylor said. “I remember growing up in Picayune really young, hearing the rocket sound in the distance, you know.”

After helping with Apollo 11, Taylor’s dad went on to test engines for NASA’s Space Shuttle program.

“I remember some of the early days of the shuttle engine test. My father would have to come out - they’d be testing kind of late because of something - and he would have to come back out for the test and, sometimes, I would come out with him and I would be able to watch some of those tests early on,” recalled Taylor. “It was always really exciting.”

Now, Taylor works near the same B-stand his father did more than 50 years ago. Working alongside him is Maury Vander, who has been at Stennis for 31 years. Vander is currently a NASA Chief of Test Operations. Even after more than three decades with NASA, the creation of Stennis Space Center still impresses him.

“When you look at some of the old pictures when this place was under construction and you see the work and the effort and the number of people it took to put this together - all pulling in a common direction trying to get us to the moon because that’s what we were chartered to do – it’s kind of amazing that they pulled it off in the time period that they did,” Vander said.

That iconic moment made a lifelong impact on Mary Byrd, associate director at Stennis Space Center.

“Yeah, I do recall the black and white TV sitting in front with my mom and my dad and my siblings, actually watching that first step on the moon. It was pretty exciting,” she said.

On Monday, WLOX News will take a look at the economic impact Stennis Space Center has had in the region and we’ll take a peek at how it is adjusting for the future.

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