Stennis holds open house complete with engine test

Published 7:00 am Saturday, October 21, 2017

NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center tested a flight engine during its open house event Thursday.

Over 1,500 people witnessed a verification test of RS-25 engine E2063, which will be used on the new Space Launch System at a later date.

While the space center holds many engine tests throughout the year, this is the first one that was open to the public in as many as nine years, said News Chief for NASA Stennis Space Center Valerie Buckingham.

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The open house offered several food vendors, which allowed people to enjoy a drink and a snack while listening to guest speakers who discussed details of the engine test, the new SLS rocket and what it’s like to be in space.

Some of the guest speakers included Gary Benton, Barry Robinson and Steve Wofford, who are part of the developing crew of the SLS.

“The engine test will last 500 seconds, and will be conducted in the manner and length of an actual launch,” Benton said. “The reason we’re doing so is because we want to receive as much data as possible on this engine and make sure everything is working properly.”

Wofford, director of SLS, said Stennis recently installed new systems across the facility and has upgraded old ones in order to become more efficient.

“This is a huge event for Stennis and it’s a great way to celebrate its 66th anniversary,” Wofford said.” This will the acceptance test for the engine and we will run it at 109 percent, our goal is to see if it’s ready to fly.”

The open house brought hundreds of people from states across the southeast including Louisiana, Alabama, Florida and Georgia.

One attendee was James Herring, who was contracted by General Electric and helped build Stennis Space Center back in the 1960’s.

“This place has grown so much since its early beginnings,” Herring said. “I’m excited to be here and witness this engine test, I remember when there were only two buildings in this whole lot, it seems like it was just yesterday.”

Other guest speakers included astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Dr. Don Pettit.

Wilmore, a U.S. Navy captain, shared some of his experiences while in space.

“It’s such a unique experience to fly in space,” Wilmore said. “I don’t really miss anything about Earth when I’m up in space because I know not everyone gets to do what I do. I enjoy all the aspects and details about being up in space.”

Participants were given ear plugs at the entrance, because the sound of the engine was constant during the eight and half minute test.   

As the time to test the engine neared, attendees made their way to the open field, where they set up a lawn chair or put down a blanket to get comfortable before witnessing the event.

People in attendance also enjoyed a closer view of the engine test than those who would see an actual launch, because everyone was about a half a mile away from the A-1 test stand, whereas during an actual launch spectators would be at least three miles away, Buckingham said.

During the test, many people recorded the event via photos or videos. Others decided to take a selfie with their friends or family with the test stand in the background.

“This is my first time witnessing an event such as this one,” John Hammond said. “I may never get an opportunity to watch a live rocket launch but getting to experience an engine test definitely makes up for it, this was perfectly organized and I hope they have more events like these in the future.”