April and I were talking to a friend about her grandfather the other day. I don’t remember why but April asked why her grandfather moved to a certain area of Mississippi or something like that and the girl said,
“He worked on rockets.”
“Like plane engines?”
That’s not exactly how it went, but it was similar. And, it made me think back fondly of school field trips to southeastern Mississippi where we would learn about spaceship engines at the John C. Stennis Space Center.
The Stennis Space Center is where the rocket engines for every manned NASA Apollo and shuttle flight into space were tested. It is also where next-generation engines are being tested for the next era of space travel, specifically deep-space travel.
So that’s cool. Rocket scientists in Mississippi. There was a saying in the 1970s, “If you want to go to the moon, you first have to go through Hancock County, Mississippi.” Pretty funny considering you can go absolutely anywhere else without going through Hancock County.
In 1961, exactly five months after John F. Kennedy decided he wanted a man sent to the moon and brought back safely by the end of the decade, NASA announced the building of the center. Fewer than five years later the very first Saturn V rocket was tested as then then-named Mississippi Test Facility.
If you are unfamiliar with the Saturn V, it’s that giant missile Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon sat atop in the movie Apollo 13.
That ship may look really big, but most of it is just rocket. The actual ship was this small:
One of the coolest moments of my entire childhood was sitting in a real apollo capsule at Space Camp in the fifth grade. One of the least cool moments of my childhood was when I was at the Stennis Space Center, surrounded by awesome space souvenirs, and I bought a little magnetic puzzle that had nothing to do with space. That or the time I picked my nose all the way through the introduction part of joining Mulberry Springs Baptist Church in Hallesville, Texas. The whole time. The pastor was trying to introduce my mom and dad to the congregation. I was trying to introduce my finger to boogers.
Back to Stennis.
The center is one of 14 NASA visitor centers in the country and has some really cool tour and museum components. I’m planning on taking April down to South Mississippi for a tour of the space center and then maybe a Lazy Magnolia brewery tour. It will be a fun day trip. The museum was really cool when I was a kid and they’ve added a 70,000 square-foot exhibit space since then. Go check it out.