The Stennis complex was established in 1963. This is where NASA tests the large rockets that carry things into space and send astronauts to the moon and the space station. All the space shuttle engines are tested here before the launches. Because of the noise involved in testing, a huge amount of land was acquired and cleared of human habitation. A small town or two had to be relocated outside the noise buffer area.
As you might imagine, rocket engines are very loud and powerful. They burn a mix of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen at a temperature of about 6000 degrees. The three Space Shuttle main engines develop just over 37 million horsepower. One engine weighs one-seventh as much as a locomotive engine but delivers as much horsepower as 28 locomotives. It also has a high-pressure oxidizer pump that delivers the equivalent horsepower of 11 more. We got to see some of the test facilities, which look much like regular launch pads, but without the full rocket apparatus. There's lots of noise but nothing shoots into the sky (hopefully).
The Stennis facility has an impressive visitor center. We could walk through a mock-up of the International Space Station, get a close look at a Space Shuttle Main Engine and much more. As you can see, Bonnie took the controls of a Space Shuttle mock-up. It’s also a great place for kids to learn about space travel. School bus loads of kids arrive every day for tours.
We got an early start and arrived at the Kennedy Space Center in time for the 10 am 2-hour bus tour of the site. We couldn't help but feel the history and importance of this place. This is where, on May 5, 1961, astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American in space and where John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth a year later. It took him only about five hours to go around three times. All NASA human space missions and Space Shuttle missions have lifted off from here, including those that failed. The following photo is launch pad 39-B where the Space Shuttle is launched. It's much larger than it appears on TV.
The NASA space program has a very respectable safety record, but accidents have happened and lives have been lost over the years. It was good to see that the astronauts that lost their lives to fires, shuttle disasters and other mishaps were honored in a special memorial to their service.