Gene Goldman serves as the director of NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis. As director, he provides executive leadership, overall direction and management of the center in Hancock County. Before being named director, the 1983 Mississippi State graduate served as deputy director at Stennis from 2006 to 2008. He answered these questions from the Journal in conjunction with Monday’s 40th anniversary of the lunar landing.
Q: How do Mississippi and Stennis fit into the moon landing story?
A: It is impossible to talk about the Apollo 11 story without talking about the role of NASA’s Stennis Space Center. This facility specifically was built to test the engines that would make that lunar mission possible. Starting from scratch in 1963, the test facilities were built with remarkable speed, with the first test conducted in just three years after construction began.
Famed rocket scientist Werhner von Braun said early on that he did not know how America was going to get to the moon, but it would have to go through south Mississippi to get there.
So it did; every engine used in manned Apollo missions was tested at Stennis Space Center. Through that testing and community support of Stennis, everyone in this area was intimately involved in making Apollo 11 possible. So, when astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped on the surface of the moon, they all felt a great sense of accomplishment.
Q: What is Stennis’ involvement in the current space program?
A: Since 1975, Stennis has been responsible for testing every main engine used in the Space Shuttle Program. In almost 130 missions, no engine every has failed. The Shuttle Program is ending next year. It’s being replaced by NASA’s Constellation Program to go back to the moon with possible journeys beyond the lunar surface. As a result, Stennis will test the engines to make those future missions possible.
We are modifying the historic A-1 Test Stand for that purpose. Also, we are constructing the first large test stand to be built at Stennis since the 1960s. Because the new J-2X engine that will carry humans on future missions to the moon will be required to start in space, this test stand will allow engineers to simulate that environment, testing the J-2X at altitudes of 100,000 feet.
Q: What do you remember about the moon landing, and where would you go if you could travel in space?
A: I was 15, growing up near Meridian, when Apollo 11 landed. I remember the images of Armstrong and Aldrin on the moon, and thinking of how many humans had looked at that same moon over the ages, wondering what was there. The United States had put people there, and in Armstrong’s words, had done it “for mankind.”
NEMS Daily Journal