We left Texas and drove through Louisiana. It’s important to note that except for the welcome centers, Louisiana has closed all of its rest stops. Inconvenient when you want a place for a picnic lunch. We spent the night near the Mississippi border and then got up and drove about an hour before stopping.
I don’t know how Heath knew that there was a huge rocket engine test launch facility behind the Mississippi Welcome Center. But he did, it’s called Stennis Space Flight Center. Although originally it was called something boring like Rocket Engine Test Center. It was named for Sen. John C. Stennis on his birthday in later years. Why Mississippi? Lots of land and close to a major waterway where equipment could be brought in by barge. The tour guide said the saying was “If you want to go to the moon, you first have to go through Hancock County, Miss.”
Heath also discovered there was a visitors’ center nearby called Infinity Space Center. It’s small but since we were passing by it was worth it to stop. It was a neat little museum. They start with the history of human exploration from the the first century AD on.
The center had a quiz you could take and earn a certificate if you get a 90% (certificates are mailed so we’re waiting on Katy’s). One was some kind of a math question involving these mission patches. I looked at them and realized right off they were not machine embroidered. They were stitched by members of the American Needlepoint Guild and took 4,000 hours. They go through STS 118 which the mission that Barbara Morgan flew on. She is who Katy wrote an essay on and was so encouraging to Katy when we contacted her. I was looking for her mission patch and I only knew the shape and that it was in 2007 so a little bit later. It was the very last patch! We also found out from looking at team photos in Houston that another astronaut she met and got an autographed photo from (Tracey Caldwell Dyson) was on the same team! When we heard her speak she only talked about her second trip up when she was on the ISS so I never made the connection.
The big thing here was taking the bus tour of Stennis. You can’t just drive on it as it’s a restricted area. Besides NASA there is also an active Naval base. The tour guide said that means there’s a base exchange that anyone can shop at. Stennis is classified as a city and has its own zip code but no one actually lives there. They used to test engines around the clock so it’s not too conducive for living! It has a lot of amenities. I know she mentioned three restaurants and a daycare center. Only current NASA employees and active-duty military have access. Retirees of Stennis and military retirees aren’t even allowed in. It’s 13,500 acres with a 125,000 acre buffer. You really wouldn’t want to build a house right next to it.
The test stands look a whole lot like the test stands we saw at Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama last month. They really are huge. Some of these things you just have to see to believe. The tour guide said you could take all the concrete used in the test stand to pour a six-foot-wide street from there to Nashville and still have concrete leftover.
When we left the space center we went around the corner to the welcome center for a picnic lunch. They have a real lunar lander trainer on display. It was pretty neat. This is something you have to see to realize just how small they really were. Claustrophobics need not apply!
After we left Mississippi we headed home. We spent a night in Alabama. Not much happened except for a semi weaving and nearly running us off the highway. We had four near-accidents in Alabama, two in each direction. We made it home safely, though.