SP-4310 Way Station to Space

 

- Chapter 13 -

Testing the Way

 

 

[325] The Morning After

A proud nation brought NASA's victorious space explorers home "shoulders high" following a half-dozen inspiring voyages to the surface of the Moon. Americans cheered their space travelers as heroes after 24 missions aboard the Space Shuttle, a wondrous ship that several astronauts have called the "Magnificent Flying Machine." But, by the mid-1980s, following the fiery crash of the Space Shuttle Challenger, the nation and the world joined the shocked and bereaved NASA family as it mourned the loss of seven beloved comrades.1

Just hours after the tragic January 1986 explosion, Jerry Hlass choked back his emotions to rally the National Space Technology Laboratories (NSTL) team. At the time he addressed a room full of his employees and news reporters who had descended on the installation, no one was sure of the [326] exact cause of the accident. Some news reporters speculated that the explosion may have been caused by the Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs) that were tested at the NSTL.2

It was soon learned from the recorded flight data that all three main engines were working perfectly at the time of the accident. This fact was later confirmed by the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger that stated in its report that the SSMEs "did not cause or contribute" to the accident.3

Nevertheless, the day of the accident, in the face of grave circumstances, Hlass promised his people and the reporters gathered at NSTL, "We will be back!" From that moment on, a new journey for the NSTL began. Indeed, determined NSTL engineers and technicians set out "testing the way" as NASA began its "return-to-flight."4

The next decade at the Mississippi facility were years of growth and significant achievement. In 1989, the leadership of the facility passed from Jerry Hlass to his deputy director, Roy Estess, who was determined to carry on the tradition and take the installation to greater heights.5

Together, Hlass and Estess moved forward during the inspiring return-to-flight period and, after much hard work and diligence, they were rewarded when President Ronald Reagan honored Senator John Stennis by renaming the NSTL after him. The John C. Stennis Space Center was now elevated to the status of a full-fledged NASA center. Hlass, who served almost 13 years as manager and director, saw his plan to gain acceptance and trust become a reality by the end of 1988.6

 

[327] Recovery And Revival

The Challenger accident produced a scenario of national leadership changes, new technical direction, and managerial restructuring within NASA that affected the destiny of the NSTL in a positive way. The accident, with all its destruction and depressive grief, was not unlike the devastating winds of change that swept across the Gulf Coast during Hurricane Camille in 1969. Camille's aftermath focused national attention on the area and the Mississippi Test Facility (MTF), which in turn prompted MTF manager Jackson Balch to observe that "it's an ill wind that blows no good."7

NASA's technical leaders at the time of the Challenger explosion were discussing, and actually leaning toward, cutting back on propulsion testing as an economic strategy. These leaders considered adopting a program, much like the automotive industry, which called for "spot-testing" engines, rather than continuing an aggressive certification and flight acceptance process. Many NSTL engineers said the successful Space Shuttle Main Propulsion Test program was the NSTL's "finest hour." At the same time, others emphatically stated that the record-breaking static-firing test program during NASA's return-to-flight program was the NSTL's greatest contribution to American spaceflight.8

NASA's nationwide return-to-flight program was a memorable team effort of enormous proportions. The effort involved all four spaceflight centers, the contractor organizations that participated in the Space Shuttle operations, and other NASA centers that contributed their unique expertise and specialized facilities to get NASA "flying" again. The first visible action, however, was seen at the NSTL, when testing resumed after almost five months.9

Immediately after the accident, the NSTL employees and residents of the surrounding communities joined in the national mourning. President Reagan, [328] who closely identified with NASA's "Operation Liftoff" and the "Teacher In Space Program," consoled and inspired fellow citizens with encouragement and support. The obviously shaken President, in his address to the nation on 28 January 1986, said, "We'll continue our quest in space. There will be more shuttle flights and more shuttle crews and, yes, more volunteers, more civilians, more teachers in space."10

The NSTL participated in an agencywide, closed-circuit, memorial service telecast from NASA's astronaut home base at the Johnson Space Center (JSC). During the NSTL portion of the memorial, Jerry Hlass addressed about 500 employees who crowded into the NSTL Visitors Center. Hlass, in his tribute to the Challenger crew, promised, "We will continue to reach out as they did. We will continue to explore because we must; we will go forward to keep their spirits and man's dream alive."11

Representative Trent Lott, who grew close to the NSTL NASA family throughout his many years in the Congress, spoke for people all over his south Mississippi district when he observed, "We are part of the family that has made the Space Shuttle program possible. We join NASA as it mourns the loss of these members of its family and will remember them for their bravery and quest for exploration."12

Many NASA employees found the experience after the Challenger accident similar to a death in their own family. In a true expression of sympathy, people in the local community stopped NASA employees at the grocery store, at church, or at a restaurant and quietly and sincerely extended their condolences and offered words of encouragement and support. The tragedy demonstrated the closeness between the NASA employees and their neighbors along the Gulf Coast.13

Immediately after the accident, there was a tremendous hue and cry from the American public, the media, and from old-line NASA professionals calling for changes in leadership within NASA - at the very highest level. One of the first asked to step down was Acting Administrator William R. Graham, in charge at the time of the accident. President Reagan then announced his intentions to nominate Dr. James C. [329] Fletcher, NASA Administrator from 1971-1977, to lead the Agency during its rebuilding phase.14

At the same time, NASA announced that Rear Admiral Richard Truly, Mississippi native and veteran astronaut, would serve in the critical role of Associate Administrator for Space Flight. Truly, at the time, was Commander, U.S. Naval Space Command. The most important facet of the new assignment for Truly was the need to direct the Agency's Data Analysis Task Force. The task force was collecting and analyzing information for a thorough review to determine potential causes of the Challenger accident. The task force closely paralleled the structure of the Presidential Commission, headed by former Secretary of State William P. Rogers. Truly asked James R. "J.R." Thompson, Jr., to serve as vice chairman of the Data Analysis Task Force. Truly's choice of Thompson was primarily in response to the fact that Thompson was formerly head of the SSME project at the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC). Robert Crippen, a NASA astronaut who flew on the first shuttle flight, was among the many other distinguished aerospace experts named to serve on the task force.15

These major appointments established an Agency hierarchy containing a cadre of top managers with intimate knowledge of the NSTL's capabilities. Fletcher had been Administrator when the NSTL (then known as the MTF) was going through structural upheavals. He was the person who finally recognized the south Mississippi installation as a separate field installation in June 1974. Fletcher had also appointed Jerry Hlass manager of the NSTL in 1976, and he was familiar with Roy Estess, when Estess served as chairman of the Agency's Equal Opportunity Counsel for three years.16

Thompson became extremely knowledgeable of the extensive and unique test capabilities at the NSTL. He made numerous trips to the installation and knew many of the test personnel on a personal basis. Thompson was also a [330] colleague and personal friend of Jerry Hlass, who assisted him in justifying and obtaining shuttle engine facilities when Hlass was director of NASA's Space Shuttle Facilities Division. These close associations and ties later paid off for the NSTL as NASA officials began to recognize the test expertise and technical capabilities at the south Mississippi site.17

Close acquaintances and friendships were forged during this period of NASA's history. Men and women bonded together in a determined effort to regain the reputation for excellence that the Agency enjoyed prior to the Challenger disaster. These relationships were especially important for the NSTL, an organization that was striving for recognition in response to its "can do" tradition of operation and its ability to test large propulsion systems. As others observed, the NASA organization, more than any other large governmental or private body, depended greatly on individual personalities to move important programs along - through the changing tides of space history.18

While the Rogers Commission hearings were under way, and the investigative work of the Data Analysis Task Force was in progress, all planned missions of the three remaining shuttles were suspended. Also, for several months all engine testing within the Agency was halted. The hiatus of engine testing, of course, included the prolific certification and flight acceptance testing of the SSMEs at the NSTL. Also postponed, and ultimately cancelled, was the planned higher level of thrust testing of the Main Propulsion Test Article (MPTA).19

Although over 6,000 people were involved in the Rogers Commission's 4-month investigation, the daily criticism of the Agency took a heavy toll on NASA employee morale nationwide. The criticism was especially upsetting because, prior to the disaster, the Agency was considered by many as the most efficiently managed federal organization.20

In April 1986, Hlass again met with NASA civil service and contractor teams involved with the Space Shuttle program and made a sage prediction. The NSTL director said confidently, "With Dick Truly's conservative approach in getting the program operating safely and effectively, the best guess [331] in Washington is that testing will increase above the rate that was going on before." The positive-minded Hlass further asserted that the NSTL would be "busier than before," testing engines in preparation for a return-to- flight. Hlass then challenged the workforce to "rededicate [themselves]" to the standards of excellence to which they were accustomed, and get NASA back "where it was before" the ill-fated Challenger flight.21

The Rogers Commission sent its report to President Reagan and the nation on 6 June 1986. Referring to the Challenger explosion as an "accident rooted in history," Secretary Rogers reported that the terrible loss was caused by a "failure in the joint between the two lower segments of the right solid rocket motor." The report recommended a redesign of the faulty solid rocket motor joints, but also called for a review of NASA's management structure. Seven other recommendations for needed changes were made (1) review critical hardware and conduct hazard analysis; (2) examine the safety organization; (3) improve internal communications; (4) address landing safety; (5) provide better launch abort and crew escape; (6) review flight rate; and (7) ensure maintenance safeguards.22

The Commission's report was formally presented to President Reagan by Secretary Rogers at the White House. Administrator Fletcher commented on the Commission's findings when he pledged to ensure that the NASA program would "become as good as it ever was." Fletcher added, "We at NASA welcome the report. It was obviously time for a serious, thoughtful, constructive review of the Agency."23

The somber delivery of the Commission's report did, indeed, mark the beginning of a major overhaul of the civil space program and signaled a new era of unprecedented, record-breaking rocket testing at the NSTL. Although the SSMEs were cleared, the NASA Data Analysis Task Force recommended modifications on the SSMEs during the stand-down time. Additionally, the task force strongly recommended the engines be thoroughly tested before another shuttle flight took place.24

The first SSME static firing following the Challenger accident was on 26 June 1986. During the test, engine number 2106 was ignited for 1.5 seconds [332] on the NSTL A-2 test stand. Although the firing was just "a blink and a puff," the test received nationwide media attention as the first visible activity by NASA since the January shuttle accident. The short firing, the first in a series leading to a full-duration static test of 520 seconds on 25 July, was a demonstration to the waiting American public that NASA had not lost its nerve and was beginning its journey back into space.25

In 1987 and 1988, static firings of the SSMEs reached an all-time peak with a record firing of 1,040 seconds, the longest shuttle engine test ever conducted. Later, two test- firings were performed for an unbelievable 2,017 seconds each, just weeks before the Space Shuttle Discovery launch in 1988. L. Boyce Mix, NASA's SSME test manager, said the 1987-88 firings were considered "daring" during the crucial return-to-flight testing period. A failure during these long-duration life-cycle tests could have caused cautious managers to postpone the scheduled return-to-flight launch of Space Shuttle Discovery on 29 September 1988.26

 

The White Paper

Perhaps inspired by the invigorated agencywide attitude and the determined effort of the NSTL test and support teams, a group of NASA engineers, led by Roy Estess, drafted a document that became known as the "White Paper." The document proposed that the NSTL be rededicated as a national center for propulsion testing. The plan suggested that an independent, NASA-managed, contractor-operated test team be installed at the NSTL to provide NASA with a continuing capability to test large propulsion systems. Pointing out that the well-known MSFC test laboratory was dismantled, the White Paper said that NASA was dependent on the engine- and vehicle-hardware contractors to test the large propulsion systems being manufactured.27

The major "question" posed by the NSTL-generated White Paper was "whether NASA should commit to third-party testing" of engine hardware. [333] Also advocated was NASA's return to a more active role and a strong commitment to a ground-test capability centered around very large government-owned facilities that taxpayers had invested in, such as the NSTL. The paper pointed out weaknesses in the present system (1986) where the hardware contractors controlled the testing and data-gathering process of their own products. Also noted was the substantial cost-saving merits of a centralized, continuing, propulsion test capability.28

The White Paper, drafted by Estess with the assistance of Harry Guin, A.J. "Jack" Rogers, Jr., Bob Bush, and Harry Johnstone, proved to be the NSTL's guide in the long-range pursuit to gain acceptance as the Agency's Center of Excellence for testing large propulsion systems. Although von Braun stated a similar policy in 1966, his vision of the installation as a national center for propulsion testing was eroded in the intervening years by internal politics between government and contractor managers.29

The NSTL group presented the White Paper on 10 July 1986 to the Crippen Group during a visit to the Michoud Assembly Facility in eastern New Orleans. The Crippen Group's primary focus was to ensure implementation of the Rogers Commission's recommendations, with an eye on improving internal NASA and contractor management structures and operating procedures.30

The NSTL employees who drafted the document were involved in testing the large propulsion systems since the very beginning of the Apollo program in 1966, and they were especially knowledgeable about the capabilities of the NSTL. Furthermore, all the engineers were in key leadership positions at the south Mississippi facility, which enabled them to help shape the NSTL's destiny.31

[334] On 18 July 1986, during the restructuring period following the Challenger accident, NSTL Director Hlass issued a contract to Bechtel National, Inc., for "consulting services" to help with plans related to future propulsion projects. Thompson, who was a key advisor to the NASA task force studying the Challenger accident, was the principal advisor for Bechtel. As a result, Thompson developed the preliminary test complex layout, identified potential locations for new test stands, and, more significantly, helped plan a strategy for future test activities.32

In a curious turn of events, Thompson was appointed director of the MSFC, effective 29 September 1986. With Thompson's appointment, there came an era of mutual respect and cooperation between the MSFC and the NSTL. This period of "good will" between the two centers is a perfect example of the unusual influence individual managers have had within the NASA organizational structure.33

Another fortuitous event occurred on 3 October 1986 when Admiral Richard Truly appointed Roy Estess to chair the review team of the Office of Space Flight's Shuttle Processing Contract. No doubt Truly heard of Estess's abilities from Thompson and Crippen and wanted to draw on Estess's expertise to study concerns raised by the Rogers Commission, the Crippen Group, and the congressional committees investigating the Challenger accident. Estess spent more than four months working closely with Crippen; Walter Williams, former director of Project Mercury and assistant to Truly on the task force; Lieutenant General Forrest S. McCartney, KSC director; and many other high-ranking NASA and contractor managers located across the country who were involved in the Space Shuttle program.34

In February 1987, at the review conclusion, Estess presented the team's findings to Truly. The review contained the team's (1) assessment of the KSC's shuttle processing arrangements at the time of the accident; (2) examination of relationships between shuttle processing contractors and the flight hardware [335] contractors; and (3) recommendations for improvements in the processing of future shuttles. The team review was valuable to Truly in his task of implementing the findings of the Rogers Commission and in making needed improvements in the shuttle management program. The diligent work of Estess as chair of the review team, however, proved especially important to the NSTL quest for recognition in propulsion testing. As a member of the review team, Estess was a credible ambassador for the NSTL, demonstrating his own talents to influential NASA managers.35

On 29 September 1986, Thompson took over the MSFC reins. Almost immediately, Hlass arranged a meeting with him in Huntsville to "explore future roles for [the] NSTL in propulsion testing." Several NSTL and MSFC engineers participated in the discussions on 20 October 1986. Thompson encouraged the NSTL team to continue their pursuit of future test programs, especially in securing a role in testing solid rocket motors and advanced liquid rocket motors. He also heartily agreed that the NSTL should be designated "a center of excellence for testing large propulsion systems." The savvy Thompson acknowledged that the MSFC and the NSTL shared "political strengths." The MSFC director recognized that the NSTL was backed by a strong congressional delegation of intelligent, influential, and supportive political leaders: Senator John C. Stennis, Senator Thad Cochran, and Representative Trent Lott. Stennis, of course, was nearing the peak of his power in the Senate, while Republicans Cochran and Lott had grown in favor with Ronald Reagan, who was then serving in his second term as the Republican President.36

Two other events occurred that further steered the installation on its course toward recognition as NASA's Center of Excellence for Propulsion Testing. On 22 October 1986, Truly visited the NSTL to chair a meeting of the NASA Management Council and participate in the annual Honor Awards Ceremony. During a meeting with Hlass and members of his senior staff, Truly surprised everyone when he suggested that the NSTL should "actively pursue the testing of [Advanced Solid Rocket Motors (ASRMs)]." At the time, only Joel Estes, a NASA engineer, had suggested the possibility of the [336] NSTL testing ASRMs at the Mississippi site. After all, the existing NSTL test facilities were designed to test liquid-propulsion engines and rocket stages. Truly's suggestion led to a long campaign to establish the NSTL as a testing facility for the improved and more powerful ASRMs.37

Meanwhile, on 1 November 1986, construction crews began working on the B-1 position (west side) of the big, B-1/B-2 dual-position test stand to modify the giant structure for the testing of SSMEs. After completing the modifications, the B-1 position, originally completed in 1967 to static fire the huge Boeing S-IC rocket-booster stage, provided a third position to static fire SSMEs.38

The momentous events of 1986 reshaped the future path of the NSTL, putting the installation back on course to having the south Mississippi facility recognized as the national rocket propulsion test center. The MTF had served well during the Apollo program and undergone significant changes during the 1970s as a unique, multiagency space and environmental complex. The Challenger accident rocked the entire Agency, causing it to engage in serious soul searching about its approach to many technical and managerial matters. Not the least of these was NASA's commitment to a vigorous rocket-testing program. In fact, the Agency's top management called for a return to the "old way" which was so successful for NASA during the Apollo program. The old way included testing rocket engines and stages to the point that NASA was "99.9 percent" certain that its rockets would fly safely once they were sent to the launch pad.39

Following the Challenger disaster, the renewed emphasis by Headquarters on testing was, of course, most beneficial to the NSTL's future. Thompson insisted that the SSMEs be tested at the NSTL, and that they be tested to the limit of their operating capacity. Members of the media construed this revived [337] philosophy to mean "test to destruction." In effect, the engines never reached such a point, even on the two static firings that exceeded 2,000 seconds.40

 

A Matter Of State

During the mid- to late 1980s, the NSTL propulsion engineers were not the only personnel enjoying the booming activities at the south Mississippi facility. True, the test stands were being used to their fullest capacities in support of the Space Shuttle's "return-to-flight." But other activities, such as the installation's involvement in the Agency's new commercial applications enterprises and technology transfer programs, began to enjoy unusual successes. Most notable was the State of Mississippi's unprecedented commitment to build a $4 million Technology Transfer Center in the heart of the facility and donate the building to NASA.41

The "bold" $4 million commitment had its roots in 1985 at a small meeting held at the onsite Rouchon House. State Representative Margaret "Wootsie" Tate of Picayune and Mississippi Research and Development Center Director James "Jim" Meredith met with Roy Estess to discuss ways the state could better capitalize on the technologies developed at the NSTL. The discussion was directed at proposals that Meredith developed for the new Mississippi Governor, William "Bill" Allain, who was searching for meaningful programs to promote during his term of office. Among the plans discussed were the support of satellite "spin-off" industries, development of the technology transfer program, and the location of a technology transfer center at the NSTL.42

Estess, who served as the "unofficial" state liaison officer for the NSTL since his appointment as deputy director in 1980, suggested to Tate and Meredith that ventures such as satellite business concerns were not successful in the past due to a number of factors. The lack of success of the ventures [338] involved the heavy emphasis on prime and support contractor use at the installation and the nature of the rocket-testing business, which relied heavily on specialized contractors with offices at other locations. Estess suggested the state pursue the location of a building on the site to enable Mississippi citizens to capitalize on the many varied technologies developed by NASA and the resident agencies. The building would provide much needed office and laboratory space for new enterprises, and, Estess pointed out, employment opportunities for high-tech personnel.43

At that time, in 1985, NASA's popularity was near an all-time high, with an overall approval rating in the national polls of 81 percent. Mississippi's "official" presence either in university research or technology transfer activities initially dated back to 1968 with the opening of an office on site, when the NSTL was still known as the Mississippi Test Facility (MTF). A State Liaison and Coordinating Office was later located at the MTF in 1971 under an executive order signed by Governor John Bell Williams. Dr. Talmadge "Tal" Bankston, who headed the office, was a close associate and friend of former MTF Manager Jackson Balch. Bankston used every opportunity to promote state participation at the installation. In addition, Bankston had the ear of long-time NSTL supporter Herman Glazier, who served as executive assistant to seven Mississippi Governors, dating back to Governor Ross Barnett. Governor Bill Allain, who took office in January 1986, was also supportive of the idea and, of course, the planners knew they could count on a strong Mississippi Gulf Coast legislative delegation to push the project.44

Other factors providing encouragement for the development of the Technology Transfer Center at the NSTL included NASA's desire to make itself known throughout the state by way of its education outreach program. Since inception, the NSTL favored the idea of a Technology Transfer Center and promoted the idea by placing study contracts and grants with Mississippi colleges and universities. The expertise of the NSTL was well known at the Mississippi R&D Center and the Institute of Higher Learning. Economic promoters such as Leo Seal, Jr., former president of the Mississippi Economic [339] Council, also supported the establishment of the center. In fact, George Schloegel, employed by the Hancock Bank and member of the Board of Economic Development, was one of the prime strategists promoting the Technology Transfer Center.45

Most supporters of the Technology Transfer Center saw the project as a "team" effort, with businessmen, political leaders, and government people working together. The establishment of the center was an unusual success, as few state governments build multimillion dollar facilities on federal property. Upon completion, the Technology Transfer Center building automatically became the property of the federal government and was placed in the care of NASA. Many at NASA Headquarters did not believe that a relatively poor state like Mississippi would take such a bold initiative. In fact, when informed of the undertaking, NASA Administrator James Beggs said "Why would Mississippi want to do that (build the center on NASA property), when it could better use the $4 million to fund grants to educate engineers?" Roy Estess, a native Mississippian who strongly advocated the project, answered Beggs, "We have been educating engineers for years and sending them off to other states to work. Maybe the Technology Transfer Center will keep some at home!"46

After some legislative ups and downs during the spring of 1985, the center was approved by the Mississippi Senate. The bill was signed by Governor Allain, with south Mississippi state legislators Gene Taylor, Bay St. Louis; Margaret Tate, Picayune; Curtis Holston, Poplarville; Walter Phillips Bay St. Louis; and Martin Smith, Poplarville, present for the signing ceremony. These south Mississippi lawmakers led the campaign to obtain the Technology Transfer Center at the NSTL. In addition to the hard work by the legislators, the project would have never reached fruition without the [340] behind-the-scenes work of Herman Glazier, Tal Bankston, Jim Meredith, and Charles Deaton, chief of staff to Governor Allain.47

Without a doubt, the Mississippi Technology Transfer Center focused even more attention on the continuing progress at the NSTL. In fact, Admiral Truly was pleased to join Governor Allain, Jerry Hlass, and about 350 federal, state, and local dignitaries in dedicating the building on 11 June 1987.48

 


Mississippi Gov. Bill Allain signs an official order dedicating the Mississippi Technology Transfer Center at the National Space Technology Laboratories in 1987. Standing is NASA Administrator Rear Adm. Richard Truly, and seated is Jerry Hlass, director of the Stennis Space Center. (87-334-17).

Mississippi Gov. Bill Allain signs an official order dedicating the Mississippi Technology Transfer Center at the National Space Technology Laboratories in 1987. Standing is NASA Administrator Rear Adm. Richard Truly, and seated is Jerry Hlass, director of the Stennis Space Center. (87-334-17).

 

At the ceremony, an obviously proud Truly pledged NASA's support for the new center, the only state enterprise of its kind in the NASA system. Governor Allain's remarks summed up the importance of the Technology Transfer Center when he said, "The fact that we had leaders in government, politics, business, and higher education on hand for the dedication marks the [341] beginning of a long-term partnership between the public and private sectors to provide necessary human and fiscal resources to the center." Allain also proudly proclaimed that the opening of the new building signaled the creation of 250 new jobs by federal and state agencies waiting to expand their programs at the NSTL.49

Over a year after the Technology Transfer Center was dedicated, a conference suite in the building was dedicated to Herman Glazier, a strong supporter of NASA since the early years of the test facility's location in Mississippi. Glazier worked closely with Governors Ross Barnett; Paul B. Johnson, Jr.; John Bell Williams; William Waller; Cliff Finch; William Winter; and Bill Allain. At the dedication of the conference suite, NSTL Deputy Director Roy Estess said, "Herman Glazier's strategic thinking and tactical legislative wisdom were critical in ultimately obtaining both state legislative and U.S. congressional approval for the center."50

 

Bold New Programs

The years of hard work and meticulous planning by Jerry Hlass and his staff also began to pay off big dividends in other areas of endeavor. In 1988, the facility was rewarded with major national programs involving testing of new and larger propulsion systems. The Space Shuttle test program continued at a record pace with the rolling thunder of the engines echoing across south Mississippi three to four times a week. These rocket tests were aimed at improving the main engines, ensuring their readiness for NASA's return-to- flight. Hlass and his experienced staff became deeply engrossed in planning for future testing involving heavy lift engines for an Advanced Launch System (ALS) project, the improved and more powerful ASRM, and the early development of components for the National Aerospace Plane (NASP) proposed by President Reagan.51

[342] NASA Administrator Fletcher came to the NSTL on 10 March 1988 to compliment the progress of the NASA-contractor team and to view a static firing. Following the engine test, Fletcher delivered a very upbeat address at the Honor Awards Ceremony during which he praised the accomplishments of the NSTL team. He said, "Building on the foundation of our past accomplishments, our unique rocket-test facilities, the special talent and expertise of our government-contractor workforce, and state-of-the-art support laboratories, there is no limit to the progress and contributions we can make at [the] NSTL." Fletcher further commended the NSTL team for performing a "first-rate job for NASA's return-to-flight program."52

 


Dr. James C. Fletcher, NASA Administrator, reacts to a 110-decibel roar emitted during a 520-second test firing of a Space Shuttle Main Engine at Stennis Space Center on 10 March 1988. From left, Roy Estess, National Space Technology Laboratories (NSTL) deputy director; Boyce Mix, Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) resident SSME manager at NSTL; Fletcher; Joe Lombardo, MSFC Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME) program manager; and Jerry Hlass, NSTL director. (SSC-88-150-20).

Dr. James C. Fletcher, NASA Administrator, reacts to a 110-decibel roar emitted during a 520-second test firing of a Space Shuttle Main Engine at Stennis Space Center on 10 March 1988. From left, Roy Estess, National Space Technology Laboratories (NSTL) deputy director; Boyce Mix, Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) resident SSME manager at NSTL; Fletcher; Joe Lombardo, MSFC Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME) program manager; and Jerry Hlass, NSTL director. (SSC-88-150-20).

 

[343] Fletcher then awarded the prestigious Exceptional Service Medal to Harry Guin for his contributions in support of propulsion test activities, and to Chief Counsel Ken Human for his contributions to a wide range of activities, including legal counsel and labor relations. Fletcher also presented a Public Service Group Achievement Award to Pan American's B-1 project team for "outstanding professionalism" in the timely completion of the B-1 construction project that gave NSTL a third test position to support the busy SSME test program.53

The next big break for the small, but tenacious, NSTL propulsion crew came during an announcement by Senator John C. Stennis on 11 March. Stennis, Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and President Pro Tempore of the Senate, announced that an agreement between the Air Force and NASA would place the NSTL in a lead role in developing a new space vehicle for civilian and military needs.54

Stennis said the agreement called for the NSTL to assemble and test all completed engines that were part of the Air Force's ALS project. The project called for modifying existing facilities at the NSTL and the construction of additional structures. The influential Mississippi Senator said he was pleased to announce that the work would create 400-500 construction jobs at the NSTL. Stennis also predicted that an additional 1,000 permanent jobs would be created at the "fully utilized" installation within 10 years. Funding for the project, Stennis said, would be "about $300 million over the next six- or seven-year period." A most important aspect of the plan was the involvement of the military in testing engines for the first time at the NSTL. According to the Senator, the testing of military systems, as well as NASA's civilian products, was the very best of both worlds.55

[344] Stennis stressed that a new "military" dimension to the NSTL testing activity was testimony to the "outstanding capabilities and record of achievement" the facility had earned in the past. NASA Headquarters' officials listened intently to Stennis at the time, because he had just issued a declaration to support NASA's return-to-flight program and the Agency's embattled Space Station program. Many Headquarters' officials knew that in his monthly "Report to Mississippians," Stennis had written, "The next logical step in space exploration is the establishment of a permanent Space Station that will assure world leadership in space for our country in the 1990s and beyond." NASA Administrator Fletcher later commented that Stennis's support of the Space Station in the spring of 1988 "saved the program."56

The importance of the ALS decision in 1988 was far-reaching. Stennis's support of the project was a milestone for the NSTL's continued march toward becoming a Center of Excellence for Propulsion Testing. Understandably, the NSTL wanted to be the Center of Excellence for "all rocket systems" developed in the country, civilian and military, and not just engines and systems developed for NASA. The ALS project included a much needed Component Test Facility that would provide the south Mississippi installation with the capability to be a "full-service" test facility.57

In July 1988, the Stennis Space Center, (SSC) formerly the NSTL, was selected to conduct another testing project that also promised great rewards for the facility. The selection of the SSC on 26 July 1988 for testing the proposed ASRM meant that the new center would be the site for static firing all propulsion systems on the Space Shuttle. The announcement that SSC was selected, however, was not altogether "good news." Hlass and his people had their hearts set on manufacturing, as well as testing, the new and improved motors that were to replace the solid rockets that had failed during the flight of the Challenger in January 1986. The selection of the SSC as the test location for the ASRM brought 600 permanent jobs to the area, about 200 employees at the SSC, and an additional 400 workers at the Michoud plant and the Slidell Computer Complex. This new mission, however, later brought [345] environmental protests and community problems - situations the center had never encountered. Earlier, Hlass stated that he did not want to contend with potential environmental problems if the center did not get the full employment boost, which would have included approximately 1,400 manufacturing jobs for the SSC. Nevertheless, the ASRM project focused even more national attention on the propulsion role of SSC.58

 

In Honor Of Stennis

An announcement that Senator Stennis would be retiring from the Senate in January 1989 set the stage for a series of major events honoring the statesman from Mississippi who had contributed so much to his country, to his state, and to the Space Agency. Not the least of these honors came in May 1988 when President Reagan renamed the NSTL in honor of Senator Stennis. In March, Senator Thad Cochran, the Republican Senator from Mississippi and a close friend of Stennis, introduced legislation in the Senate to rename the NSTL in honor of Senator Stennis. Cochran told his colleagues in the Senate, "As chairman of the Armed Services Committee and, more recently, as chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Senator Stennis has been in positions that have enabled him to be a strong influence in the authorization and funding of these important [NASA] programs."59

About the same time, NASA Administrator Fletcher also recommended to President Reagan that the NSTL be named for Stennis. In addition, earlier private discussions between Hlass and Eph Cresswell, Stennis's long-time assistant and friend, had focused on recognizing Stennis for his dedicated support of NASA and the south Mississippi facility. During talks between Hlass and Cresswell, the renaming of NSTL was discussed. Roy Estess, Mack Herring, and Wanda Howard Hlass's administrative assistant, assisted Hlass in crafting a paper for Fletcher to forward to the President. No doubt Senator Cochran's strong devotion to his friend and colleague along with Fletcher's recommendation to the President, and the behind-the-scenes work of Hlass, [346] Cresswell, and his staff, all contributed to Reagan's action to rename the facility in honor of the man who contributed so much to America's unrelenting quest to build a strong military and win the Cold War.60

While Senator Cochran's legislation was working its way through the Congress, Reagan decided to go ahead and rename the NSTL. On 20 May 1988, President Reagan signed the Executive Order that renamed the NSTL the "John C. Stennis Space Center." The order stated that Stennis had "steadfastly" supported the space program since its inception. The presidential order cited Stennis for his "visionary leadership" to ensure world leadership and preeminence in space for the United States. Reagan also said that Stennis's "unwavering support" of the south Mississippi facility from the moment of the decision to establish the installation was "a fact well-known by NASA officials in all of their dealings with Stennis and his staff."61

 


One of the proudest days in history of the installation came 3 August 1988 when the south Mississippi facility was dedicated the John C. Stennis Space Center (SSC) in honor of Sen. Stennis. Pictured are, left to right, Toni Seawright, Miss Mississippi 1987; Rear Adm. Richard Truly, NASA associate administrator for Space Flight. Gov. Ray Mabus; Jerry Hlass, SSC director; Sen. Stennis; Dr. James C. Fletcher, NASA administrator; Sen. Thad Cochran; Rev. Beverly Tinnin; and Roy Estess, SSC deputy director. (SSC-88471-19196).

One of the proudest days in history of the installation came 3 August 1988 when the south Mississippi facility was dedicated the John C. Stennis Space Center (SSC) in honor of Sen. Stennis. Pictured are, left to right, Toni Seawright, Miss Mississippi 1987; Rear Adm. Richard Truly, NASA associate administrator for Space Flight. Gov. Ray Mabus; Jerry Hlass, SSC director; Sen. Stennis; Dr. James C. Fletcher, NASA administrator; Sen. Thad Cochran; Rev. Beverly Tinnin; and Roy Estess, SSC deputy director. (SSC-88471-19196).

 

[347] After the Executive Order was issued, Administrator Fletcher said: "This [renaming of NSTL] should have taken place a long time ago. John C. Stennis served as the father of NSTL since he led the efforts for its creation. His leadership of the nation's space program stands as a monument to his career of significant accomplishments." Jerry Hlass, who became the SSC's first director, stated that "he has been a leader and strong advocate for a prominent role in space for the United States." "Furthermore," according to Hlass, "his close association with the center has contributed significantly to the growth and progress we have experienced over the first 27 [years of the facility's existence]."62

NASA pulled out all the stops in its dedication of the newly renamed Stennis Space Center on 3 August 1988 with a ceremony on Stennis's 87th birthday. Upwards of 7,000 people gathered to honor Stennis at the outdoor dedication ceremony held in front of the main administration building in sweltering 99-degree south Mississippi summer sunshine. Immediately after the big event, thousands of well-wishers joined Senator Stennis in a gala birthday party held inside a 100-yard-long, air-conditioned, circus-type tent.63

"Pageantry, patriotism, and pride" were the themes of the dedication that featured speeches by Mississippi Governor Ray Mabus, Administrator James Fletcher, Admiral Richard Truly, Senator Thad Cochran, and Director Jerry Hlass. U.S. Representative Trent Lott led a long list of dignitaries, including State Senator Gene Taylor and State Representative Margaret Tate, who came to pay tribute to Stennis. Stennis's proud family was also well represented at the grand affair. Deputy Director Roy Estess, who was soon named the SSC director, served as master of ceremonies, which he later said was one of the most memorable events of his life. Senator Stennis, who smiled, laughed, and clapped his hands, gave a resounding and emotional response.64

Hlass praised the Senator for his "foresight and leadership" and Associate Administrator Admiral Truly remembered his childhood growing [348] up in Mississippi and how he was influenced by Senator Stennis. Governor Mabus called Stennis a "man of vision" who had helped guide the country to conquer new frontiers. Senator Cochran thanked the senior Senator for his friendship and the example he set during his 41 years in the Senate. Fletcher referred to Stennis as the "founding father" of the center and said, "From its early beginning in the 1960s, this center has been Senator Stennis's center in all but the name. Today, it is only fitting and proper that it, in fact, bears his name." In response, Senator Stennis applauded the efforts of everyone who worked to build the center. "You made up your mind; you kept on track; you put out your own money; you gave your own time," Stennis said. Having his name on the center was incidental, Stennis declared, "It is the work being done that matters."65

The ceremony was concluded with a spectacular fly-over of 11 vintage and modern jet aircraft representing the numerous aircraft the Senator had helped acquire funding for through the years from World War II to the present. The U.S. Marine's Drum and Bugle Corps filled the air with patriotic music as the vintage airplanes motored by, and finally the powerful jets zoomed upward and disappeared, leaving only white contrails lazily fading in the bright, blue Mississippi sky.66

The SSC dedication was a personal tribute to the life's work of the Mississippi Senator. Hundreds of employees at the center volunteered to help prepare for the event, wanting to put their own mark on the event that honored their Senator. The dedication also demonstrated the appreciation that the community felt for Stennis's efforts to help establish and build the facility in Mississippi. NASA Headquarters officials, who depended on the senior statesman's support in budgetary battles, also pitched in to make the dedication one that Administrator Fletcher said was, "the best I have ever [attended]." The NASA Administrator added, "It will be many, many moons before Mississippi sees another event like this one."67

More important to the NASA family were Senator Stennis's own thoughts of the ceremony in his honor. He wrote to the NASA-contractor family at the SSC a few days after the event and said,

[349] My own personal feelings of gratitude and joy defy description. The dedication of this facility brought back so many fond memories of the early days of struggle, when we had little more than potential and desire to develop a first-rate facility that would aid in the space program. The reality that is the Stennis Space Center has far exceeded our dreams of those early days. Now we stretch to dream bigger dreams which will also be attainable if we work with the same determination and desire. Thank you for making possible a day which will always stand as a high watermark in my public service career.68

The tribute to Stennis's lifetime of government service and tenacious support for the space program was fitting and even spectacular. The real importance of the renaming, however, came after the ceremony, when the SSC became a full-fledged member of the family of NASA field centers, and its director was able to sit at the NASA council tables as an equal with fellow center directors. The SSC's prominence and recognition spread quickly throughout the Agency, and a new level of status and accomplishment lay before the small, but dedicated NASA team. The dedication, as Stennis said at the ceremony, was also a tribute to the hard work and dedication of the NASA-SSC team. In a real sense, the President's renaming of the facility was also a tribute to the Stennis employees for their struggle "against all odds" that began nearly 20 years earlier when they set out to "save" their installation and gain independence as the Apollo program began to wind down.69

 

The Journey Continues

The long and highly successful tenure of SSC director Jerry Hlass did not end with the celebrated dedication of the new NASA center. On the night of the dedication ceremony, the Space Shuttle test team static fired the SSME 2206 on the newly modified B-1 test position for 2,017 seconds, a record run for an [350] SSME. The milestone test was equivalent to 34 minutes, or four Space Shuttle flights into space. The test team fired the SSME again on 15 August for 2,017 seconds. During one of these long-duration firings, approximately 600,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen and 230,000 of liquid oxygen were burned. Ten-million gallons of water were needed to cool the test stand's flame deflector.70

Boyce Mix, resident manager of the MSFC's Shuttle Projects Office, said the series was run to accomplish testing on the least number of occasions as possible to achieve the established "8,000 second [testing] goal." Mix said he was "pleased" with the performance of the engine, the test team, and all support systems. "Two-thousand seconds is a long time," he noted. "It takes a lot of concentration for test conductors to monitor everything in that period of time."71

As time neared for the 29 September 1988 launch of Space Shuttle Discovery on NASA's STS-26 return-to-flight mission, the enthusiasm of the SSC "can do" employees reached new heights. "It feels much like it did when we were leading up to the first shuttle launch of Columbia in 1981," Deputy Director Roy Estess observed. "We are an aggressive, high-spirited team, confident that we are on the right track." Roscoe Nicholson, a Rocketdyne engine test manager and head of the company's 320-member test team, echoed Estess's summation and added, "We're very happy with the way the engines are working." Estess and Nicholson agreed that problems discovered during the extensive testing - such as cracks, welding flaws, and a small heat exchanger - had been solved.72

With the successful testing of the shuttle's main engines, a major phase was completed in the process of preparing the Space Shuttle for flight. NASA certified that numerous improvements were made to the rocket's engines and they were ready to return-to-flight. All told, there were 40 changes made to the SSMEs during the 32-month, stand-down period. The last test firings, aimed at certifying the design modifications, were completed in July. The two record-breaking 2,017-second firings on the B-1 test stand in August gave the Agency even more confidence for the upcoming STS-26 shuttle launch.73

 


[
351]

A cloud of hot steam boils out of the flame deflector at the A-l test stand during a test firing of a Space Shuttle Main Engine in 1988 during the NASA <<return-to-flight>> program. (SSC-88-072-2).

A cloud of hot steam boils out of the flame deflector at the A-l test stand during a test firing of a Space Shuttle Main Engine in 1988 during the NASA "return-to-flight" program. (SSC-88-072-2).

 

Since SSME testing resumed in June 1986 following the Challenger disaster, the test program at the SSC accumulated 175 tests for a total of 79,775 seconds. Understandably, the large number of tests and the cumulative number of testing seconds undertaken were directly related to a desire to eradicate any problems with the engines prior to an extensive Office of Space Flight (OSF) review of the entire Space Shuttle system and engine flight-readiness certification. As a result, the accumulated firing time was equivalent to approximately 50 Space Shuttle missions.74

The meeting of NASA's five-member OSF Management Council, comprised of the four center directors and the NASA Headquarters's OSF director, took place at the SSC on 9 September 1988. The OSF meeting was preceded by a shuttle program management review on the Mississippi Gulf [352] Coast headed by Arnold Aldrich, director of the National Space Transportation System. Aldrich and his team then presented their findings to the OSF directors on 9 September. An announcement of a 29 September target date for the launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery was the Agency's return-to- flight. Members of the Space Flight Council were Rear Admiral Richard Truly, head of the Office of Space Flight; Jerry Hlass, SSC; Aaron Cohen, JSC; Forrest McCartney, KSC; and J.R. Thompson, Jr., MSFC.75

At the conclusion of the critical OSF meeting, Admiral Truly announced to the press that the Space Shuttle was again ready to fly. In making his proclamation, a jubilant and confident Truly praised the entire NASA organization's accomplishments in the return-to-flight program. The Mississippi native proudly recounted the testing done at the SSC when he said, "The work that has been done down here [at the SSC] has been the heaviest test program ever, and Stennis has done it," Truly said. "It's complete now, and we're ready to fly!"76

Of course the entire Agency was pleased to hear those encouraging words from Admiral Truly. None of the space- flight directors was happier than Jerry Hlass, who led his "can do" team from the lowest ebb of their morale in 1976 to the exhilarating heights of becoming a full-fledged participant in NASA's return-to-flight campaign. Hlass, in nearly 13 years, moved from the back row of the OSF conference room to become a respected, voting member of the elite spaceflight directors' club, sitting as an equal at their table. Hlass admitted that Truly was largely responsible for the change in his status within NASA because when Truly was appointed as Associate Administrator following the Challenger explosion in 1986, the Admiral wanted all spaceflight centers to participate fully in the important decisions made to get the shuttle flying again. Truly believed active participation by all concerned was necessary to achieve the results needed to rebuild the organization, redesign and modify the hardware, test the components, and conduct a successful launch.77

[353] The entire NASA family was invigorated by Admiral Truly's announcement that the Agency was ready to go back into space with the Discovery orbiter on the STS-26 spaceflight mission. Personnel at the Stennis Center had been on an emotional high all during 1988, with one achievement after another.78

With these heady achievements tucked away, Hlass, several members of his staff, and a number of community friends headed to the KSC for the launch of Discovery on mission STS-26 on 29 September 1988. Personnel from the south Mississippi installation prepared the rocket stages for all of the Moon missions during the Apollo program and the engines for the first 25 Space Shuttle flights. The return-to-flight mission of Discovery, however, held special significance for all concerned. The launch of Discovery was considered a "comeback" mission to recover NASA's honor and credibility, qualities somewhat tarnished by the Challenger accident. For the SSC government-contractor team, the STS-26 return-to-flight mission was also special because of the monumental testing effort conducted in south Mississippi to ensure the safety and efficiency of the Discovery's main engines.79

In addition to the work devoted to the STS-26 mission, the personable crew members of Discovery were especially close to many employees at the SSC because they had visited the test center in 1987, presented awards, shook hands, and signed autographs. During their visit, the crew met with as many employees as possible, including workers in the Space Shuttle Test Complex. The astronauts on the flight were Navy Captain Frederick H. "Rick" Hauck, commander; Air Force Colonel Richard O. "Dick" Covey, pilot; and mission specialists George D. "Pinky" Nelson, John M. "Mike" Lounge, and Marine Lieutenant Colonel David C. "Dave" Hilmers.80

Beyond the SSC team's achievements in testing and their attachment to the crew, the STS-26 mission was a personal accomplishment for Jerry Hlass. The launch of Discovery marked the first time an SSC director actively participated in the decision process certifying a craft for flight. Hlass's opinion, along with the other spaceflight directors, was a contributing factor in making the "Go or No-Go" launch decision for the mission. A new spirit of teamwork prevailed under Admiral Truly's leadership of NASA. In addition, Hlass felt...

 


[
354]

The Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-26) was launched from Kennedy Space Center 29 September 1988, signifying America's return-to-flight following two years of down time as a result of the Challenger accident on 28 January 1986.

The Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-26) was launched from Kennedy Space Center 29 September 1988, signifying America's return-to-flight following two years of down time as a result of the Challenger accident on 28 January 1986. Personnel at the National Space Technology Laboratories "tested the way" with record rocket engine tests prior to the STS-26 mission. (SSC-94-677-1).

 

...close to the other center directors, Cohen, McCartney, and Thompson, having worked with them during the return-to-flight recovery period. With many of his employees and community friends present for the STS-26 launch, Hlass could not have been happier.81

Likewise, on 29 September 1988, NASA Headquarters's officials were excited at the prospect of a successful return-to-flight launch of Space Shuttle Discovery. At 11:37 a.m., Discovery lifted off the launch pad and quickly accelerated out of sight to the relieved applause and yells of approval of the [355] tens of thousands of spectators who gathered to wish the crew and NASA well. As the craft climbed into the blue sky, many members of the launch control team were filled with emotion, some moved to tears.82

In addition to performing the scientific and engineering tasks, the STS-26 shuttle mission crew paused to pay tribute to their fallen comrades of Space Shuttle Challenger. Commander Rick Hauck added to the remarks made by the other members when he reflected, "Today up here where the blue sky turns to black, we can say at long last to Dick, Mike, Judy, to Ron and El and to Christa and Greg - Dear friends, we have resumed the journey that we promised to continue for you...your loss has meant that we could confidently begin anew...your spirit and your dreams are still alive in our hearts."83

On 3 October 1988, Discovery concluded the historic mission said to be "A great ending to the new beginning." A very proud and excited Admiral Truly hailed the mission as an "absolute stunning success." The conclusion was, indeed, as Administrator Fletcher proclaimed, "a banner day for NASA." President Ronald Reagan joyfully proclaimed that "America is back in space!"84

 

Crossing To Victory

Following the successful Discovery mission, the SSC employees shared in the adulation from fellow citizens. The SSC workers gave their best in long hours of testing the engines for the mission. Some SSC team members gave an extra measure by serving on investigative and review teams to improve manufacturing and processing and to ensure the safety and reliability of the vehicle. The Mississippi installation's engineers and technicians also made a significant and lasting contribution by developing a system to remotely monitor shuttle temperatures and icing conditions.85

This important shuttle-monitoring contribution came from the Science and Technology Laboratory (formerly the ERL), where Gerry Meeks and his [356] colleagues designed a system using remote sensing techniques that would not only monitor icing and temperature conditions of the vehicle, but would also detect hydrogen- or oxygen-fed fires, or propellant leaks. The innovation was first used during the STS-26 mission and is now used on all shuttle flights. At the time the monitor was unveiled, many engineers wondered "what if" the system had been available before the Challenger mishap.86

A very pleased Jerry Hlass thanked all the SSC employees for their efforts in helping prepare the Discovery for flight. The proud SSC director noted in an open letter to all employees that the dedicated SSC team "picked themselves up from extreme adversity" and helped the Agency achieve a stunning comeback. In his letter, Hlass noted the record-breaking testing of the main engines, the modification and activation of the B-1 test stand, the work on the review teams, and the development of the remote sensors to thermally map the shuttle stack as it stood on the pad at KSC.87

On 26 October 1988, the triumphant crew of the Discovery visited the SSC to personally thank those employees who tested the shuttle's engines and helped make the improvements leading up to the STS-26 mission. The crew's visit was like a "victory party" or a celebration. Once again the astronauts went all over the sprawling space center, cracking jokes, shaking hands, and sincerely expressing their appreciation to the SSC team. The Discovery crew shared photos with employees in the Visitors Center auditorium, talked to several hundred workers in the shops, visited the Teacher Resource Center and presented Silver Snoopy Awards to Rocketdyne employees in the Space Shuttle Test Complex. Members of the shuttle crew also joined SSC community leaders and center management for a luncheon at the Cypress House pavilion. The crew's simple words were enough reward for the hundreds of SSC workers who contributed to the nation's return to space. "Thanks for all the good work you've done," said Commander Hauck during a speech delivered at the base of the A-1 test stand. "You got us going, you got us back into space."88

 

[357] Top Of The Mark

The success of the STS-26 mission that Commander Hauck spoke of at the SSC was shared by Director Jerry Hlass and his dedicated employees. During his nearly 13 years as head of the south Mississippi test and environmental complex, Hlass led a small but determined team to new heights - literally to the "top of the mark." The ambitious goals Hlass set for himself and his NSTL government-contractor team when he arrived at the NSTL in 1976 had been achieved by late fall of 1988. To the surprise of most SSC employees and community officials, on 22 November 1988, NASA Administrator James C. Fletcher appointed Hlass to the position of Assistant for Engineering and Technology to the Deputy Administrator at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.89

At the same time, Fletcher named Deputy Director Roy Estess to succeed Hlass as director of the newly designated John C. Stennis Space Center. Estess, a test engineer who came up through the ranks, had served as deputy director of the south Mississippi facility since 1980. The Tylertown, Mississippi, native was a "strong right arm" as Hlass steered the installation through most of the 1980s and was there to assist Hlass in achieving his heady goals for the center.90

When Hlass arrived at the NSTL in September 1976, the future for the NASA laboratory looked bleak. The small, 69-member NASA organization was beset with serious morale problems. The NASA personnel feared extinction with the arrival of the Navy and with the MSFC's strong control of the test complex. The once-touted rocket-test facilities were woefully lacking in preventive maintenance and in some cases were rusting away, right in the very shadow of the test stands. The entire infrastructure was beginning to show age and wear; many facilities were becoming obsolete. The shaky tenure of the JSC-managed ERL indicated that it might be served better at its home base in Texas.91

[358] Hlass surveyed the situation when he arrived in 1976 and told his bosses at NASA Headquarters that the NSTL was "worth saving." Indeed, they gave the tenacious Hlass and his competent and experienced staff the opportunity to prove themselves. Hlass, with the help of his small but tough crew, went to work with a set of 10 goals that were as sacred to him as the Ten Commandments. To the astonishment of some and the satisfaction of many, Hlass rallied the south Mississippi team, and by November 1988 they not only achieved their goals, but they far exceeded their expectations. As icing on the cake, Hlass and his people were duly recognized by Dr. Fletcher, Admiral Truly, and even the President of the United States for their achievements.92

In 1976 when Jerry Hlass returned to Mississippi to take charge of the NSTL, there were 1,500 government and contractor personnel working with NASA and 18 federal and state agencies. When Hlass left for his Washington assignment in January 1989, there were 5,400 people employed at the SSC. The Navy's oceanographic programs and the Army Ammunition Plant, promoted by Senator Stennis, together brought in approximately 2,700 people. During the same period, over 1,200 government and contractor personnel were added to the NASA team.93

A mark of Hlass's leadership, evident to all, was the continuous construction and refurbishment of facilities during his management of the Mississippi installation. The rusting infrastructure that Hlass found in 1976, sparkled with new and improved facilities by the time he departed. He is especially remembered for helping his SSC people secure new programs, initiating personnel amenities, promoting education and public programs, and ensuring the success of the Space Shuttle test program by providing excellent facilities and support services.94

Most notably, Jerry Hlass inherited a struggling laboratory trying to find a toehold within the greater NASA "community" and left behind a dynamic John C. Stennis Space Center with experienced and well-qualified managers and personnel poised to grow into the decade of the 1990s. Indeed, Jerry Hlass succeeded in the SSC's "renasafication."95

 


Notes

1. A.E. Houseman, "To An Athlete Dying Young," Oscar Williams, ed., A Little Treasury Of British Poetry (New York City, NY: Scribner's, 1951), pp. 874; Norman Mailer, Of a Fire on the Moon (New York City, NY: Little Brown and Company, 1969), pp. 399, 402; NASA Headquarters Public Affairs, Apollo (Washington, DC: NASA, 1972), pp. 32-33, 63; "Columbia Performs Flawlessly," Lagniappe, 20 April 1981, Stennis Space Center Historical Records Collection (henceforth referred to as SSCHRC); Roger D. Launius, NASA: A History Of The U.S. Civil Space Program (Malabar, FL: Kreiger Publishing Co., 1994), p. 116.

2. Jerry Hlass, interview by Mack Herring, Long Beach, MS, 27 February 1996.

3. William P. Rogers et al., Report Of The Presidential Commission On The Space Shuttle Challenger (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1986), pp. 19-21; Howard Benedick, NASA: The Journey Continues (Houston, TX: Pioneer Productions, Inc., 1989), p. 105.

4. "NSTL Joins Nation In Tribute To Challenger Crew," Lagniappe, February 1986, SSCHRC. Immediately following the Challenger disaster, reporters questioned the author about the possibility of one of the SSMEs that were tested at the NSTL causing the accident.

5. NASA-NSTL News Release, "Roy Estess Receives Presidential Rank Award, 13 May 1988, SSCHRC; Jerry Hlass to Executive Secretary, Incentive Awards Board, "1981 Honor Awards," 1981, SSCHRC.

6. John Seiley, interview by Rex S. Cooksey and Johnny Mann, Way Station To Space, video history, 25 October 1991.

7. See Chapters 7 and 8 of Way Station To Space for detailed information on Hurricane Camille.

8. See Chapter 11 of this book for good discussion of NSTL's "finest hour;" Gerald Smith, telephone interview by Mack Herring, 18 April 1996. Smith, former SSC deputy director, told the author in telephone conversation that the return-to-flight period after Challenger disaster was, in his opinion, the Agency's "finest hour." Boyce Mix, in an informal discussion with author, said he felt each NASA person involved with a particular test program had a different idea of "when" NASA's finest hour occurred.; Neil McAleer, Space Shuttle, The Renewed Promise (Washington, DC: NASA-PAM-521, 1988), pp. 5-6.

9. "NSTL Joins Nation In Tribute To Challenger Crew," Lagniappe, 20 February 1986, SSCHRC; Mack Herring, "A Morning After..." Lagniappe, 20 February 1986, SSCHRC.

10. "NSTL Joins Nation...," Lagniappe, SSCHRC.

11. Herring, "A Morning After," Lagniappe, SSCHRC.

12. "NSTL Joins Nation...," Lagniappe, SSCHRC.

13. See Boyce Mix's observation on initial Space Shuttle launch in Chapter 11 of this book.

14. "NASA Warnings Claimed," The (New Orleans, LA) Times-Picayune (henceforth referred to as The Times-Picayune), 18 March 1986; Launius, NASA: A History Of The U.S. Civil Space Program, p. 115.

15. Sara Keegan, NASA Headquarters News Release, "NASA Task Force Assignments Detailed," 6 March 1986, NASA Historical Reference Collection (henceforth referred to as NHRC); "Agency Appoints Richard Truly To Head Space Shuttle Program," Lagniappe, 19 March 1986, SSCHRC.

16. NASA Headquarters Public Affairs Office (PAO), "Biographies of NASA Leaders, 1996, Http://www.hq.NASA. gov/office pao/History/history bios/htn1. [Link no longer works; instead go to: http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/History/Biographies/fletcher.html, Chris Gamble, html editor]; Jerry Hlass, interview by Mack Herring, Long Beach, MS, 27 February 1996 and 26 March 1996, notes in SSCHRC; Roy Estess, interview by Mack Herring and Ms. Myron Webb, SSC, MS, 24 April 1996, notes and audio tapes in SSCHRC.

17. NASA Headquarters PAO, "Biographies," p. 22, SSCHRC; Hlass, interview by Herring, 27 February 1996.

18. Keegan, "NASA Task Force..."; Estess, interview; Smith, telephone interview.

19. "NASA Postpones Mission," Lagniappe, 20 February 1986, SSCHRC; Marvin Lee "Marv" Carpenter, interview by Mack Herring, Pass Christian, MS, 25-26 March 1996; "Modifications Initiated to Create Third Test Position Here," Lagniappe, 20 November 1986, SSCHRC.

20. McAleer, Space Shuttle, The Renewed Promise.

21. "Director Jerry Hlass Speaks to NASA, Contractor Team," Lagniappe, 21 April 1986, SSCHRC.

22. Rogers, Report On The Space Shuttle Challenger, pp. 40, 198; See also McAleer's Space Shuttle, The Renewed Promise, p. 6.

23. "Fletcher Comments On Rogers Report," Lagniappe, 19 June 1986, SSCHRC; Mack Herring, "A Place of Beginning," Lagniappe, commentary, 19 June 1986, SSCHRC.

24. Ibid.; "Fletcher Comments...," Lagniappe, SSCHRC.

25. NASA-SSC, Test and Engineering Directorate, "B-1 Test History," 21 December 1994, p. 1, SSCHRC; Mix, interview by Herring, 9 April 1996.

26. Ibid.

27. Roy Estess, Harry Guin, A.J. "Jack" Rogers, Jr., Harry Johnstone, and Bob Bush, "White Paper on Strengthening of Ground Test Capability for Large Propulsion Systems," 10 July 1986, SSCHRC.

28. Ibid.

29. Ibid.; Wernher von Braun to George Alexander, Aviation Week, "In answer to questions," 23 December 1966, SSCHRC.

30. Estess, et al, "White Paper on Strengthening."

31. Ibid.; It is interesting to note that all of the authors of the White Paper were engineers who worked together for years, most as far back as the mid-1960s. Roy Estess recalls actually writing the paper, but he is quick to point out that he received strong input from his engineering associates. As pointed out earlier in the text, engineering schools in the immediate southeastern United States were heavy contributors to the MTF construction and test program. For instance, Estess was a graduate of Mississippi State, Guin finished at Alabama, Rogers had an engineering degree from Ole Miss, Johnstone from the tough engineering school at Auburn, and Bush matriculated from Georgia Tech. The author would have to surmise that these men brought a strong, diverse southern engineering education to bear in planning and drafting the White Paper.

32. Contract, Pan American World Services, 18 July 1986, SSCHRC; Jerry Hlass, interview by Mack Herring, Long Beach, MS, 29 March 1996.

33. NASA Headquarters, Biography, J.R. Thompson, History Office, http://hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/Biographies/thompson.html [correct link is: http://hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/History/Biographies/thompson.html, Chris Gamble, html editor], 2 May 1996; Peter Cobun, "J.R. Thompson: Marshall Chief Runs Center The Way He Runs His Condo," The Huntsville (AL) Times, 27 November 1988; Hlass, interview, 29 March 1996; Roy Estess, interview by Mack Herring and Ms. Myron Webb, 24 April 1996.

34. NASA-SSC PAO, Biographies, Roy S. Estess, 8 July 1992 and 19 March 1996, SSCHRC; Sarah Keegan, NASA Headquarters News Release, "NASA Task Force Assignments Detailed," 6 March 1986, NHRC.

35. Roy S. Estess, report, NASA Headquarters Office of Space Flight, Shuttle Processing Contract Review Team, 9 February 1987, SSCHRC.

36. NASA Headquarters, Biography, James R. Thompson, Jr.; Hlass, interview; "Sen. Trent Lott Biography," SSC PAO Biography File, SSCHRC; "Sen. Thad Cochran Biography," SSC PAO Biography File, SSCHRC.

37. Hlass, interview. Admiral Truly spent a full day at the NSTL on 22 October 1986 addressing employees at Honor Awards Ceremony and joining them at a traditional picnic at Cypress House recreation park by the Pearl River. Truly also met with the NSTL senior staff at the new conference center, at which time he surprised most staffers by bringing up the possibility of testing an "improved solid rocket motor." Hlass voiced his concerns about testing "solids" at that meeting.

38. NASA SSC News Release, "Third Test Position Underway At NSTL," 14 November 1986, SSCHRC.

39. "NASA Administrator Visits NSTL; Presents Major Agency Awards," Lagniappe, 21 March 1988, SSCHRC; NASA-SSC News Release, "First Firing Set On New SSME Test Position," 24 March 1988, SSCHRC; NASA-SSC News Release, "2,017 Second Test Conducted on B-1," 4 August 1988, SSCHRC; "Shuttle Rocket Passes Test With Flying Colors," The Times-Picayune, 24 December 1987; Howard Benedict, NASA: The Journey Continues (Houston: Pioneer Publications, Inc., 1989), p. 109; Roger E. Bilstein, Stages To Saturn, A Technological History Of The Apollo/Saturn V Vehicles (Washington, DC: NASA SP-4206, 1980), p. 347; Erik Bergaust, Wernher von Braun (NY: Cobb/Dunlop Publishing Services, Inc., 1979), pp. 510-511.

40. "Shuttle Rocket Passes Test...," The Times-Picayune; John Maines, "Two Years After Challenger, Lab Is Ready To Go," The Jackson (MS) Clarion-Ledger (henceforth referred to as The Clarion-Ledger), 28 January 1988. Deputy Director Roy Estess, in a highly optimistic mood, commented to The Clarion-Ledger, "We are a high-spirited team. We are confident we are on the right track. I think we will continue [testing] at a high rate."

41. "NSTL Approved For Technology Transfer Center," Lagniappe, 19 April 1985, SSCHRC.

42. Estess, interview by Herring and Webb, 24 April 1996.

43. Ibid.

44. "Center Honors Herman Glazier," Lagniappe, 18 November 1988, SSCHRC; George Schloegel, interview by Mack Herring, Hancock Bank, Gulfport, MS, 21 February 1996.

45. "Dedication Of Technology Transfer Center Historic For Mississippi And NASA," Lagniappe, 19 June 1987, SSCHRC; James "Jim" Meredith, SSC, MS, telephone interview by Mack Herring, 20 May 1996. Jim Meredith told author that the Technology Transfer Center was an "enormous" team effort by Mississippi politicians, business people, and NASA personnel. Jim said that Governor Bill Allain backed the project 100 percent. State legislators Margaret "Wootsie" Tate, Gene Taylor, Walter Phillips, Curtis Holston, Martin Smith, and Jim Simpson played important roles in the campaign that eventually won acceptance of state lawmakers. The business community was led by Leo Seal, Jr., George Schloegel, and Tommy Munroe. In addition, critical contributions came from Herman Glazier, the reliable and astute administrative assistant to several governors, including Governor Allain.

46. NASA-SSC News Release, "Technology Transfer Center Dedicated," 11 June 1987, SSCHRC; Meredith, interview by Herring, 20 May 1996; Estess, interview by Herring and Webb, 24 April 1996.

47. Photo Caption, Lagniappe, 20 May 1985, SSCHRC; Meredith, interview; Estess, interview by Mack Herring and Ms. Myron Webb, 24 April 1996.

48. "Dedication Of Technology Transfer Center Historic For Mississippi and NASA," Lagniappe, SSCHRC. Dedication of Technology Transfer Center was major event in the history of technology in Mississippi. After the SSC ceremony, there was an informal reception at the Diamondhead Yacht Club, Diamondhead, MS, that was attended by state politicians, business people, and scientists, that went on into the late hours of the night. In attendance was Tal Bankston who had worked tirelessly, day and night, to push for full utilization by the state of the technology available at SSC.

49. Ibid.

50. NASA-SSC News Release, "Herman Glazier Honored At NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center," 31 October 1988, SSCHRC.

51. NASA-SSC Briefing Paper, "The Stennis Space Center, Reinventing Government For 25 Years," 14 September 1995, SSCHRC; The dedication of the Mississippi Technology Transfer Center offers an excellent example of the combined commitment of Jerry Hlass and Roy Estess to strengthening NASA relationships with federal and state resident agencies.

52. "NASA Administrator Visits NSTL... ."

53. NASA-SSC Propulsion Test Directorate, "A-1, A-2, B-1 Test History," 22 December 1994, SSCHRC; Hlass, interview.

54. Ibid. According to Senator Stennis "[The] NSTL is in an excellent position to perform the crucial testing on these engines for the military as well as for NASA. Our country's best interests will be served by involving the Mississippi facility in the developing and testing of this new engine [for the ALS program]. It makes good sense to use these facilities to the maximum and also to prevent costly duplication of rocket test facilities at military sites elsewhere,when they already exist in Mississippi [at the NSTL]."; The Office of Senator John C. Stennis, News Release, 11 March 1988, SSCHRC.

55. NASA-SSC News Release, 11 March 1988, SSCHRC; Senator John C. Stennis, Report To Mississippians, "Space Exploration Must Move Forward," The (Bay St. Louis, MS) Sea Coast Echo, 27 December 1987. Sen. Stennis took the opportunity to write his monthly newspaper column, entitled "Report To Mississippians," about the importance of the national space program and the need for the nation to support the development of a space station.

56. NASA-SSC News Release, 11 March 1988, SSCHRC; Stennis, "Report To Mississippians...".

57. NASA-SSC History Office, "Pursuit Of A Propulsion Test Mission For The NASA John C. Stennis Space Center," January 1991, SSCHRC; "NASA Selects SSC For ASRM Testing," Lagniappe, 29 August 1988, SSCHRC.

58. Ibid.

59. "NSTL Bill To Honor Stennis," The Clarion-Ledger, 26 March 1988; Linda Slade, telephone interview by Mack Herring, SSC, MS, 22 May 1996.

60. Roy S. Estess, interview by Mack Herring and Ms. Myron Webb, 7 July 1995; Author's personal AMEX calendar notes, 1988, SSCHRC.

61. Ronald Reagan, Executive Order, "Designating Certain Facilities of the National Aeronautics And Space Administration In The State Of Mississippi As The John C. Stennis Space Center," The White House, 20 May 1988, copy in SSCHRC.

62. "John C. Stennis Space Center - President Reagan Honors Senator Stennis; Changes Name of NSTL," Lagniappe, 20 May 1988, SSCHRC.

63. Nan Patton Ehrbright, "Stennis Life, Work Saluted, The (Biloxi/Gulfport, MS) Sun-Herald (henceforth referred to as The Sun-Herald), 4 August 1988; Official NASA Program, "Dedication, John C. Stennis Space Center," 3 August 1988.

64. Ehrbright, "Stennis Life, Work...," The Sun-Herald.

65. "NASA Dedicates John C. Stennis Space Center," Lagniappe, 29 August 1988, SSCHRC.

66. Ibid.

67. "Senator Stennis Honored At Dedication Of Center," Picayune (MS) Item, 4 August 1988; Ehrbright, "Stennis Life, Work...," The Sun Herald.

68. Mack Herring, "Dream Bigger Dreams," commentary, Lagniappe, 29 August 1988, SSCHRC. Senator Stennis used the expression "dream bigger dreams" in a letter to Jerry Hlass (and to all SSC personnel) thanking Hlass and the SSC employees for honoring him with the dedication. Stennis encouraged them to "dream bigger dreams." American author-poet Edgar Allan Poe also used the words in one of his poems.

69. "SSME Test Program Reaches Milestones," 29 August 1988.

70. John Maines, "Two Years After Challenger Lab Is Ready To Go," The Clarion-Ledger, 28 January 1988.

71. "Shuttle Engine Improvements Certified Ready For Flight," Lagniappe, 21 September 1988, SSCHRC.

72. Estess, interview; Maines, "Two Years After Challenger...," The Clarion-Ledger.

73. "NASA Schedules Target Date For Shuttle Discovery Launch," Lagniappe, 21 September 1988, SSCHRC.

74. Ibid.

75. NASA Headquarters News Release, "Discovery Launch Set For 29 September," 27 September 1988, NHRC; "NASA Schedules Target Date...," Lagniappe, 21 September 1988, SSCHRC.

76. Ibid.; Hlass personal notes, handwritten, 27 February 1996, original in SSCHRC; Jerry Hlass, interview by Mack Herring, Long Beach, MS, 27 February 1996.

77. Hlass, interview; NASA-SSC History Office, Chronology, 1991, SSCHRC; "Successful Discovery Mission Tops News In 1988," Sea Coast Echo, 27 January 1989.

78. Ibid.

79. Ibid.

80. Ibid.; Neil McAleer, Space Shuttle, The Renewed Promise (Washington, DC: NASA-PAM-521, 1988), pp. 2-6; "Flight Crew For STS-26 Visits NSTL: Presents Snoopys," Lagniappe, 20 March 1987.

81. Hlass, interview.

82. Benedict, The Journey Continues..., pp. 110-111; Roger D. Launius, NASA: A History Of The U.S. Civil Space Program (Malabar, FL: Kreiger Publishing Company, 1994), pp. 117-118.

83. Ibid.

84. "STS-26 Crew Thanks NSTL," Lagniappe, 24 October 1988, SSCHRC; Benedict, The Journey Continues..., pp. 108-111.

85. Jerry Hlass "Special Thanks To A Dedicated Team," Lagniappe, 24 October 1988, SSCHRC.

86. "Stennis Space Center Engineers Develop Shuttle Imaging Device," Lagniappe, 24 October 1988, SSCHRC.

87. "Special Thanks To A Dedicated Team," Lagniappe, 24 October 1988, SSCHRC.

88. NASA-NSTL News Release, "Astronauts Thank Stennis Employees," 23 October 1988, SSCHRC.

89. NASA-SSC News Release, "Key Appointments Made At NASA Headquarters," 22 November 1988, SSCHRC; "Hlass To Take Headquarters Post; Estess Named Stennis Director," Lagniappe, 15 December 1988, SSCHRC.

90. Ibid.

91. Roy S. Estess, interview by Henry Dethloff, Mississippi Oral History Program, University of Southern Mississippi, vol. 444, 1991, pp. 22-23, SSCHRC; Office Of Applications Engineering, "Management Review For Mr. Jerry Hlass," 27 August 1976, SSCHRC. A large number of NASA notables gathered at the Great Southern Club in the Hancock Bank to bid farewell to Jerry Hlass. Leo Seal, Jr., gave a brief talk outlining achievements of the SSC under Hlass's direction. Seal emphasized the "continued growth" during Hlass's tenure.

92. "Admiral Truly Gives Major Awards For Space Shuttle Recovery Effort," Lagniappe, 13 January 1989, SSCHRC; Mack Herring, commentary, "Jerry Hlass - His Mark To Remember," Lagniappe, 13 January 1989, SSCHRC.

93. Leo Seal, Jr., remarks, Great Southern Club, Gulfport, MS, January 1989, SSCHRC.

94. Ibid.

95. Commentary, Lagniappe, 13 January 1989, SSCHRC.


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