How Much Do You Know About NASA Facilities? Part Three

Have you enjoyed reading our fact-filled two-part series about NASA facilities so far?  We’re excited to bring you even more information in our third installment here.  Join us as we discuss two additional NASA facilities that house some of the most sophisticated technologies that have likely helped shape the way you think about life and what it is like, off earth today.

Stennis Space Center

Stennis Space Center is a NASA rocket testing facility located in Hancock County, Mississippi. As of 2012, the Stennis space center was NASA’s largest rocket engine test facility. If you are lucky to be around Hancock County, you can still hear the sound of roaring engines off in the distance.

Many people don’t know the origin story of how Stennis Space Center came to be. It started with the initial thought of becoming NASA’s suggested rocket testing facility, as they needed one that was situated at the rockets’ manufacturing facility at the Michoud Assembly Facility in eastern New Orleans, Louisiana, and the takeoff facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Also, the facility they were looking for would need to have barge access as the rocket motors that were to be tested for Apollo were too big for overland transport. Beyond their physical size, the Apollo motors were too noisy to be tested at Marshall Space Flight Center’s existing test stands near Huntsville, Alabama. So, it was deemed that a more solitary site was needed because of the noise levels.

After an all-out site selection procedure that included assessments of other coastal locations, including Eglin Air Force Base in Florida plus islands in both the Caribbean and the Pacific, NASA revealed the formation of the Mississippi Test Facility (which is now known as Stennis Space Center) on Oct. 25, 1961. The Stennis center was created for testing engines for the Apollo Program.

John Stennis Space Center was named in 1988 after Mississippi’s long-serving U.S. senator. The stands are facilities that hold down separate rocket stages and engines so that they can be released as they are during an actual spaceflight. The stands are encircled by a 125,000-acre buffer area, which is planned to absorb much of the vibration and sound caused by the testing of the gigantic engines and stages.

Stennis Space Center is used to check and flight-certify Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne’s RS-68 engines used in the Delta IV expendable launch vehicle program. Stennis was also part of the engine expansion for the proposed X-33 reusable space vehicle.

On March 16, 1996, Stennis center carried out the first test of a subscale cryogenic fuel tank planned for use in the X-33 reusable launch vehicle project. Stennis also ran different tests on the XRS-2200 Linear Aerospike engine for the X-33 program, data from which could help develop the J-2X engine that was to be used on the Ares launch vehicles.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally sponsored research and development area. The Jet laboratory is also a NASA field center located in the city of La Cañada Flintridge in California, United States.

Created in the 1930s, JPL is a property of NASA and directed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech). The laboratory’s primary role is the manufacture and operation of planetary robotic spacecraft. The Jet laboratory also carries out Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also in charge of operating the NASA Deep Space Network.

Jet Laboratory was moved from the U.S. Army to NASA in December 1958. Unlike other NASA facilities, JPL works for NASA under a contract clause, a practice that started in 1962. The laboratory is currently managed by Dr. Charles Elachi. JPL today consists of 177 acres that sit next to the location of von Karman’s early rocket test facilities.

The earliest original structure still standing at JPL is no. 11, first built for use in the rocket prototype. It is known as the JPL Space Sciences Laboratory today. Other original constructions that were used in the first rocket test programs remain in use. The Missions Operation building was constructed in 1958, along with the Low-Temperature Laboratory and the High Vacuum Laboratory.

In 1998, the Jet Laboratory launched the Near-Earth Object Program Office for NASA. As of 2013, JPL has discovered 95% of asteroids that are a kilometer or more in diameter that cross Earth’s orbit.

JPL has overseen and operated nearly all the significant U.S. interplanetary exploration missions. These consist of the early Ranger and Surveyor lunar probes; the Mariner series of spacecraft that flew past Venus and Mars in the 1960s; the Viking landers, which were the first successful U.S. landings and expeditions of the Martian surface in 1976. The Jet Laboratory oversees systems engineering in support of the Constellation Program.

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