Wicker: Space Exploration Still Goes Through Stennis 50 Years After First Rocket Test

Hancock Facility Draws Latest Advancements in Rocket Engine Technology

August 15, 2016

It began with a blast. Fifty years ago, in the early morning hours of April 23, 1966, a Saturn V rocket stage was tested in Hancock County. After those fifteen seconds of rocket testing, Americans were one step closer to landing a man on the moon, and Stennis Space Center was on its way to becoming NASA’s largest rocket testing facility in the country.

The rest is truly a remarkable history, written by generations of Americans who devoted their life work to space exploration. Wernher von Braun, the first director of the Marshall Space Flight Center, was correct when he famously predicted, “I don’t know yet what method we will use to get to the moon, but I do know that we have to go through Mississippi to get there.” The first rocket test would be one of 43 firings during the Apollo program that eventually put Neil Armstrong on the moon.

Important Test Coming Soon

Success continues to be part of the Stennis legacy. During the Apollo and Space Shuttle programs, engines tested at Stennis never resulted in a single failed mission. Today, NASA is at Stennis preparing for its Space Launch System, and private companies are turning to South Mississippi for testing as they work toward new advancements in space transportation.

Last month, one of these private-sector partners, Aerojet Rocketdyne, announced it would expand its Center of Excellence at Stennis. In addition to the RS-68 and RS-25 engines, the company will now add the new AR1 rocket engine to its assembly and testing at Stennis – an expansion expected to create dozens of new jobs. The AR1 is part of a crucial national security effort to replace foreign-made rocket engines.

In just a few days, on August 18, Stennis will test Aerojet Rocketdyne’s RS-25 engine for the Space Launch System, NASA’s powerful new launch vehicle. This engine will facilitate the next generation of space travel into farther reaches of our solar system. Once again, the journey to new milestones in human exploration will go through Stennis.

Better Airports Across the State

Improvements in air travel are accompanying advancements in space travel. The latest extension of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) includes provisions to strengthen airport security and improve infrastructure. The FAA legislation, signed into law last month, expands the Airport Improvement Program to provide grants for infrastructure upgrades.

Mississippi airports will receive more than $20 million in these FAA grants, which were approved late last month. The projects will benefit small and large airports across the state. Two of the largest grants will provide funds for runway improvements at the Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport and for noise mitigation at the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport.

Just as the infrastructure at Stennis continues to draw commercial interest, better airports are crucial to economic growth and the development of vibrant communities where people want to live and work. Mississippi is home to some of the most innovative companies in the world, and the quality of our infrastructure and workforce is directly related to these lasting investments.