By Jeremy Pittari, Item Staff Writer
The Picayune Item
Stennis Space Center —
STENNIS SC — NASA has requested more than $17 billion in funding for the next fiscal year, and the John C. Stennis Space Center is planning to make modifications to existing test stands to meet the needs of tomorrow’s launch systems.
In the commercial sector, engines tests continue at the E-1 test stand for Orbital Sciences and Blue Origin, said Jeff Lott, Chief of Mechanical Operations at the E-1 test stand.
Orbital contacted Stennis in 2008 about conducting the tests. Tests for Orbital’s engines have been taking place at Stennis since 2010, and in that time, they have conducted 14 hot fire tests, leading to 11 engines being deemed flight worthy, Lott said. Last month the company performed a successful test flight.
Modifications are being made to the historic B test stand where engines for the Apollo and Space Shuttle programs were conducted. For more than 10 years the test stand has gone unused. Built in the mid 1960s, the test stand last tested Space Shuttle Main Engines and was capable of testing four of those engines at once. B-2 Test Stand Project Manager Rick Rauch said the stand is undergoing modifications to test the engines that will be used in the Space Launch System, the successor to the Shuttle Program. Modifications began in October of last year, and are planned to continue until January of 2016, Rauch said.
The test stand is the largest in the world, Rauch said.
NASA Deputy Director Lori Garver said the $17.7 billion requested for the next fiscal year’s budget has the support of decision makers in Washington D.C., and she hopes that as the space agency continues its work, it will retain its place as the crown jewel of the country, and Stennis will continue as the crown jewel of NASA.
Garver was taken on a tour of Stennis and the test stands last week, along with U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-4th.
Continued support of the International Space Station will ensure that mankind will go farther than ever before. NASA also has planned trips to an asteroid before heading out to Mars, Garver said. One of NASA’s plans is to use a system of solar propulsion to guide a captured asteroid back to an orbit near Earth that would allow astronauts to study it up close, Garver said.
Garver said asteroids contain the secrets to the origin of life.
While $17.7 billion may seem like a lot of money to most people, Garver said that figure makes up only .5 percent of the national budget, but it is still more than any other nation spends on space programs. Palazzo said the United States needs to maintain its leadership in space exploration, and the programs planned for the future are priorities. He said he expects members of both political parties can put aside their differences to come together on a working budget for NASA.
In other Stennis news, the INFINITY Center received $10.4 million worth of grants that will be used to install interactive science exhibits and create trails, said INFINITY Center Board Liaison Myra Webb. The grant comes from the BP oil spill settlement.
In addition to the interactive science and technology exhibits, the grant will fund construction of 3.5 miles of nature trails near the center leading to the nearby river. Webb said when the trail is complete it will allow for biking and bird watching and expose tourists to the beautiful landscape surrounding the INFINITY Center.
“It’s really going to help make (INFINITY) a tourist destination,” Webb said. “They are really going to be cutting edge state of the art exhibits.”