A Brief History On The John C Stennis Space Center

Bay Saint Louis Travel Blog

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In the late 1960s and early 70s, there was an old saying around the community,"If you want to go to the moon, you first have to go through Hancock County, Miss. The site known today as NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center boasts a rich and colorful history dating as far back as 1699. Indians, settlers, pirates and soldiers shaped this part of Mississippi which now hosts modern-day explorers.  In the decades before the space age arrived here, the old towns of Gainesville, Napoleon, Santa Rosa, Logtown and Westonia formed a logging and shipping center along the scenic East Pearl River. In time, these settlements gave way to a more high-tech network involving space, oceans and Earth. 

In October 1961, a historic announcement was made: the federal government had selected an area in Hancock County, Miss.

, to be the site of a static test facility for launch vehicles to be used in the Apollo manned lunar landing program.

It was the largest construction project in the state of Mississippi and the second largest in the United States at that time.   Less than eight years later, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the lunar surface, safely transported thousands of miles by a space vehicle whose boosters were tested and proven flight-worthy at Stennis Space Center.  The selection of this site in Mississippi was a logical and practical one. The land was chosen because of its water access, essential for transporting large rocket stages, components and loads of propellants. It also provided the 13,500-acre test facility with a sound buffer of close to 125,000 acres, which is a national asset.

The center's primary mission at the onset was to flight certify all first and second stages of the Saturn V rocket for the Apollo program. This program began with a static test firing on April 23, 1966, and continued into the early 1970s.

Proof of the contributions made by Stennis Space Center to America's space program was that all the Apollo space vehicle boosters did their job without a single failure, including those for the Apollo 11 mission the landing of the first men on the moon.

From Apollo to the next mode of space travel.  A new chapter was added in June 1975 when the Space Shuttle Main Engine was tested here for the first time. All the engines used to boost the Space Shuttle into low-Earth orbit are flight certified at SSC on the same stands used to test fire all first and second stages of the Saturn V in the Apollo and Skylab programs.

one of the canal locks that transports rockets to the center
Space Shuttle Main Engine testing is expected to proceed well into the 21st century.

Over the years, SSC has evolved into a multidisciplinary facility made up of NASA and 30 other resident agencies engaged in space and environmental programs and the national defense, including the U.S. Navy's world-class oceanographic research community.

What's in a Name?

SSC has undergone a number of name changes. Its original name, Mississippi Test Operations, was changed to Mississippi Test Facility in 1965. In 1974, the facility was named the National Space Technology Laboratories reporting to NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

In May 1988, it was renamed the John C. Stennis Space Center in honor of U.S. Sen. John C. Stennis for his steadfast leadership and staunch support of the nation's space program.
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one of the canal locks that transp…
one of the canal locks that trans…
one of the few test towers
one of the few test towers
a replica of a Saturn V rocket
a replica of a Saturn V rocket
Bay Saint Louis
photo by: michellepowell