The Mississippi Test Facility
On October 25th, 1961, NASA announced that the Mississippi Test Facility, now the John C. Stennis Space Center, would be built.
NASA needed an area that was far enough away from major population centers, while still having access to utilities and water transportation.
NASA found a suitable area in a part of Mississippi that bordered Louisiana along the Gulf Coast. There was just one problem. There were five small towns on the land that NASA would radically transform from small logging communities to a test facility tasked with checking out the engines that would send Apollo astronauts to the moon.
Logtown, Gainesville, Santa Rosa, Napoleon, and Westonia and all of the inhabitants of those towns were moved to make way for the massive concrete and steel test stands required for engine testing.
Nearly 1,000 people relocated and the “786 residences, 16 churches, 19 stores, three schools and a wide assortment of commercial buildings, including nightclubs and community centers” were either moved or destroyed.
Mississippi Senator John C. Stennis, the man that the test facility was renamed for, urged the people that were being displaced by this project to understand that: “There is always the thorn before the rose; you have got to make some sacrifices, but you will be taking part in greatness.”
With the towns cleared, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began the process of transforming the 13,800-acre area. Gone was the once massive lumber mill, and constructed in its place, giant, 200-foot-tall test stands used to validate the engines that would send humans to the moon.
Engineers and 6,100 construction workers also created a seven-and-a-half-mile-long canal system that allowed NASA to move engines, rocket stages, and the necessary rocket fuel and oxidizer throughout the test site. After all, what good are massive test stands if nothing can get to them?
The first engine test took place on April 23rd, 1966, a short three years after the massive construction undertaking began. The first and second stages of the mammoth Saturn V rockets were all tested at Stennis.
The incredible thrust generated by the engines on the Saturn V meant that the test stands had to withstand over 1 million pounds of thrust and temperatures of nearly 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which is about half as hot as the surface of the sun.
During the late 60s and early 70s “42 tests for the Apollo Program, including ones on all of the engines used on the program’s manned missions” were conducted.
After Apollo, the test stands saw use during the Shuttle program, test firing every engine ever flown during the Shuttle’s lifetime. More recently, the test stands at Stennis have been used for the engines that will power the Space Launch System. The space center and the people that work there have genuinely taken part in greatness.