By NEMS Daily Journal
The final space shuttle launch Friday ended an era of both magnificent accomplishments and occasional, painful tragedy in American history, a NASA program in which Mississippi and Mississippians played a critical role through the Stennis Space Center in Hancock County.
The final launch, however, is not the end of the space program. It is hoped by many that it is only a hiatus from manned U.S. space exploration, with unmanned American launches planned and under development for several decades. American astronauts are expected to continue work on the International Space Station, lifted by Russia’s Soyuz rockets.
In Mississippi, dramatic new investment continues at Stennis, where a new tower to pre-flight test a new generation of rocket engines is near completion.
NASA has recently completed a 35,000-gallon liquid oxygen tank atop the A-3 Test Stand at Stennis. The 300-foot tall stand is being built to test next-generation rocket engines capable of carrying humans beyond low-Earth orbit into deep space. Construction of the stand began in 2007. The A-3 stand is the first large test structure built at Stennis since the 1960s, when stands were built for the Saturn rocket engines that eventually lifted astronauts toward the moon.
In Northeast Mississippi, a Huntsville-based firm, Dynetics, is expected to soon complete a pre-launch test facility at the Yellow Creek site (Tri-State Commerce Park) on Pickwick Reservoir in Tishomingo County.
Dynetics’ news release in late June said its Yellow Creek facility will “provide affordable propulsion testing services to customers for varying sizes of thrusters and engines. This new test site … will be used for propulsion testing of small- to medium-class thrusters, rocket engines and stages using various fuel types. It is one of only a few commercial hydrazine test facilities in the United States.”
Hydrazine is an inorganic compound widely used in rocket fuel.
The company plans a three-stage development of its Yellow Creek facility.
“The Dynetics decision to base a test facility in Iuka is very positive,” said U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R- Miss. “The Yellow Creek site is a valuable asset to our state and to the nation. … With this site in North Mississippi and Stennis Space Center in South Mississippi, our state will have the unique national capability to test rocket engines ranging from the very small all the way up to the world’s largest.”
The new test site originally was supposed to have been a TVA nuclear plant complex, but that was canceled in 1984.
Later, Yellow Creek was slated to become a major NASA-affiliated manufacturing site for a new shuttle booster rocket, but Congress shut funding down in 1993, when the operation was 80 percent complete.
In a speech delivered July 2 to the National Press Club in Washington, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden said American leadership in space will continue.
Bolden, the Houston Chronicle reported, said NASA is planning and developing a program to take manned space flight beyond lower Earth’s orbit, where it has been for 35 years. He cited a concept released last month that could carry a newly-designed capsule, based on the Orion capsule previously developed, into deep space – back to the moon, and beyond, to Mars.
President Obama, he said “charged us with carrying out the inspiring missions only NASA can do that will take us farther than we’ve ever been. To orbit Mars and eventually land on it. He’s asked us to start planning a mission to an asteroid.”
Northeast Mississippi has a toehold in the space program, and a firm grasp at Stennis.
In the longer term, we hope our congressional delegation and economic development professionals will continue seeking the high-technology jobs and work that space vehicles demand.