OUR OPINION: NASA charts new course for Stennis

By NEMS Daily Journal

NASA, the federal space agency, last week unveiled its plans and design for a new launch system for human space exploration – not just to the moon and back, but far beyond, to asteroids and eventually Mars.
It’s years away from implementation, just as was the goal of going to the moon before the end of the 1960s, articulated so passionately by President Kennedy early in that decade.
NASA’s goals and its fate in the scheme of federal funding are immensely important in Mississippi because of jobs and economic impact generated by the Stennis Space Center in Hancock County.
Stennis doesn’t send rockets into orbit; it makes certain the rocket engines can lift the payloads safely into space. It was the proving ground for the space shuttle’s boosters, and it is slated to have that same kind of role for the Space Launch System, which will be the most powerful rocket the U.S. has ever made.
Sen. Thad Cochran, the Mississippi Republican who is vice chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said very clearly last week he is interested in the SLS and the role Stennis could play in its development. His interest is appropriate because Stennis, with all of its programs, agencies and research enterprises, has an $875 million per year impact through its 4,500 employees and all the money that’s spent keeping it in operation.
We’re not talking about pork but about hard money.
The center’s official calculations put its impact on the Gulf Coast, and by extension the rest of the state, in these terms:
“If Stennis had not been in operation in 2010, considering both direct and indirect effects, a very conservative estimate of reduction in employment for the local area would be almost 23,000 jobs; personal income would have been reduced by $1.03 billion; and retail sales would have been reduced by $617.5 million. It is estimated Stennis had an impact of $110.2 million on local government tax revenue.”
Cochran said the NASA decision, announced Sept. 14, will advance opportunities at the Stennis Space Center for testing the new heavy-lift rockets needed for future manned space exploration.
“The NASA decision to move forward with a heavy-lift system design is good news, and it should ease some of the uncertainty created with the end of the space shuttle program about the future of the American space program,” Cochran said. “I believe this decision is beneficial for the Stennis Space Center, which is in a position to more aggressively test the new heavy lift rockets and propulsion components needed to make the new space launch system a success.”
The lift capacity of the proposed rocket could be evolved to 286,000 pounds, The first developmental flight, or mission, is targeted for the end of 2017.
If plans move forward, Stennis will be a busy place.
The Space Launch System would become NASA’s first exploration-class vehicle since the Saturn V took American astronauts to the moon over 40 years ago. What’s out there beyond our reach is worth seeking.
The nuts and bolts of the program for Mississippians are these, as it would be for citizens of every other state:
“This launch system will create good-paying American jobs, ensure continued U.S. leadership in space, and inspire millions around the world,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “President Obama challenged us to be bold and dream big, and that’s exactly what we are doing at NASA. While I was proud to fly on the space shuttle, tomorrow’s explorers will now dream of one day walking on Mars.”
Federal investment in jobs to accomplish national goals will remain a critical part of the national economy. Mississippi’s delegation shouldn’t hesitate to back the programs that sustain our state’s economy, especially at an intellectual and technological level found in few other places.
The details are available for study at the website http://go.nasa.gov/newlaunchsystem.