Top NASA officials hail Stennis Space Center as ‘national treasure’

Tuesday was Bill Nelson's first stop at Stennis Space Center since he became NASA administrator in late April.
Published: Dec. 7, 2021 at 10:24 PM CST
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HANCOCK COUNTY, Miss. (WLOX) - NASA’s top leaders were on the Gulf Coast this week to share their vision for the future of space exploration in South Mississippi.

Sen. Bill Nelson made his first trip as NASA administrator to Stennis Space Center on Tuesday.

”This is an exciting point in our nation’s history and a lot of it is happening right here,” Nelson said.

NASA is building a Space Launch System that is on track to be the most powerful rocket in the world. The SLS is designed to power Artemis missions to the Moon and eventual flights to Mars. Affectionately known as the twin sister of Apollo, Artemis will land the first woman and next man on the moon by 2024.

Nelson and deputy administrator Pam Melroy touted the importance of the Gulf Coast’s local space center.

“This is a national treasure,” Melroy said.

Aerojet Rocketdyne is the lead contractor for providing the engines, and they’re all being tested at Stennis.

“That’s just one example of how Stennis is such a national asset,” Nelson said.

The Orion spacecraft will launch on the SLS and serve as the exploration vehicle that will carry the crew to space, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during the space travel, and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities.

“Orion is the only spacecraft capable of keeping humans alive in deep space and when we test it, that’s going to be absolutely amazing,” Melroy added. “Stennis has been right in the heart of all of it.”

The duo also talked about funding.

Nelson said President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Act would benefit the space center to support infrastructure updates and repair damage caused by Hurricane Ida.

“There is $1.1 billion for NASA in that bill and it’s really important,” said Nelson. “It’s passed the House and now, they’re looking for 50 votes in the Senate.”

NASA leaders also participated in a dedication ceremony for the Fred Haise Test Stand. In March, Stennis re-designated the A-1 Test Stand in honor of Haise, a Biloxi native and member of the famed Apollo 13 mission in 1970.

Computer programmers have set up all the processes, engineers have conducted countless tests and at least 1,000 people are responsible for every aspect of the test including technicians, electricians, and computer scientists, NASA says.

In all, NASA has three missions currently being planned: Artemis I in 2021 will be an un-crewed flight, Artemis II in 2022 will be a crewed flight, and NASA will land astronauts on the Moon by 2024 on the Artemis III mission.

NASA will use what they learn on and around the Moon to take the next giant leap - sending astronauts to Mars - and Mississippi is the place where it all begins.

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