Mission to Mars
US path to Mars and beyond coming through Mississippi – Published in the Sun Herald
By PRISCILLA LOEBENBERG — Special to the Sun Herald
STENNIS SPACE CENTER — After of decade of inactivity, the B-2 test stand, part of the largest propulsion-testing facility in the world, is being reconfigured in preparation for the rockets that will take astronauts farther into space than ever before.
NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver toured Stennis on Friday as part of a series of meetings with NASA directors at the center. She received updates and discussed the most recent federal budget request made in April. The president has requested $17.7 billion for NASA, 0.5 percent of the federal budget.
“I am here to convey the support this team has in Washington D.C.,” Garver said. “Your country’s elected leadership supports the space program.”
Mississippi’s Steven Palazzo, who chairs the U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, joined Garver on the tour. He said the space program is one area that receives strong bipartisan support, a political rarity.
“It is extremely important to maintain American leadership in space,” Palazzo said.
Garver said NASA plans to have astronauts visiting Mars and asteroids as part of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft programs.
The B-2 test stand is being topped with a 100-foot superstructure to support the SLS Core, which will take astronauts on missions into deep space. The core will have four engines for a combined 2 million pounds of thrust.
“We are on time and under budget,” said Rick Rauch, manager of the B-2 Test Stand Restoration, Buildout and Test Project.
Testing is scheduled to begin in September 2016 in preparation for a 2017 launch.
“One way we are going to lower the cost of getting to space is with commercial rockets,” Garver said.
Stennis leases the adjoining B-1 test stand to Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne for testing of RS-68 engines. Another commercial test stand at Stennis was used to test Aerojet’s AJ26 used in April’s launch of the Antares orbital test flight. Spacecraft developer Blue Origin is another Stennis tenant.