Land cleared for new Stennis science center

Published 7:19 pm Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Land has been cleared at the Stennis Space Center in Hancock County for the new home for NASA’s Infinity Science Center.

The $35 million center is planned as a state-of-the-art space, science and education attraction that would serve as a welcome center/tourist attraction off Interstate 10.

The 68,000-square-foot center will sit on a 199-acre site.

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The state of Mississippi provided $6 million last year for the work.

NASA has contributed $5 million and private donors have added $1.5 million. The state has been asked for another $7 million.

“We have enough confidence that we will raise the money to go forward with site preparation,” Wilson said. “We will not start construction of the building until we’ve got all the money. We are hoping to start building by late summer.”

Wilson expects the Seabees to come back at the beginning of March to build a stormwater retention pond for the facility.

Planners are aiming for cutting-edge science to spill out of the center’s earth and space exhibition areas into the building itself.

Wilson said they are trying to get the facility accredited as a high-performance, energy-efficient and sustainable facility through the U.S. Green Building Council. Designers are incorporating some very high-tech components that Wilson would not yet unveil.

“We hope Infinity will become a 30-year test model for advanced science building technology,” he said.

“We want this place not just to tell about good science but to be good science.”

Wilson expects the center to open in spring 2009.

Local tourism directors have high hopes for the project that will draw on NASA space and earth scientists along with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Navy marine scientists.

“Infinity is a world-class educational facility that focuses on science and space,” Mississippi Gulf Coast Visitors Bureau’s Steve Richer said.

“It’s new and exciting and it is the type of thing you need to become a Tier 1 destination.”

Beth Carriere, with the Hancock County Tourism Development Bureau, said the area desperately needs the tourists that Infinity will attract after Hurricane Katrina’s devastation.

“It’s the bright star we have right now,” Carriere said.