SP-4310 Way Station to Space

 

- Epilogue -

 

 

[433] It has been over 33 years since the last residents of Gainesville bundled up their most cherished belongings - a few pieces of antique furniture, some cuttings from their flower beds, and a favorite front-porch rocker - and hauled their worldly goods away from the river bottom that cradled their dying river-town. The once proud and historic community was left to rest peacefully under a protective canopy of great live oaks along the banks of the Pearl River.

Many of the residents who sold their land to the United States government under the terms of the eminent domain policy could trace their roots back five generations, to the beginning of the historic place. There were a few citizens who were descendants of the French explorers who first sailed up the river in 1699. All of the citizens reluctantly gave up their picturesque homesites to the federal government, so NASA could construct, of all things, a modern complex for the Agency to light-up and test-fire giant rockets bound for the Moon.

Another generation has grown up since that sad day in January 1963. Indeed, the former residents of the Gainesville and Logtown communities were proud when their country did actually go to the Moon in July 1969. The spaceship blasted on its journey propelled by Saturn rockets first proven worthy on the giant static-test stands erected on the very grounds cleared by many of their ancestors over 200 years earlier. The former residents, during the years since they left the communities of Gainesville, Logtown, Santa Rosa, Napoleon, and Westonia, witnessed the inspiring Moon missions and followed the daring exploits of the Space Shuttle as the reusable aerospace ship carried on the American spaceflight tradition for over 15 years.

Along with people around the world, they marvelled at the space pictures sent back to Earth by satellites and spacecraft to help farmers, fishermen, firemen, and foresters. The displaced residents, who vacated their homes in 1963, knew that these extraordinarily useful "space maps" were products of the NASA people who came and built laboratories on their vacated Hancock County property. The new "space" people were explorers, too, searching for better ways to make science work for ordinary people. Many of the children and grandchildren of the displaced property owners returned years later to help work modern miracles with computers, to push buttons to static-fire [434] powerful rocket engines, and to study underwater ocean routes for the U.S. Navy's vital oceanographic programs.

By late August 1996, the land once covered by cypress swamps and piney woods had been transformed into a world-class technical hub designated as the lead center to direct and test the nation's present and future rocket propulsion systems. Space age pioneers of the research laboratories, who learned to use satellite information transmitted from space to advance commercial industries here on Earth, were now recognized internationally for their expertise. These remote sensing experts helped spawn hundreds of new businesses through their commercial programs. The technology they developed during the 1970s and 1980s was now considered the benchmark of the remote sensing industry in this country and abroad.

The space and environmental complex that was begun in 1970 grew through the years paralleling, and in some cases exceeding, the national development of science and technology. By the summer of 1996, there were 22 federal and state agencies located at the installation. These multidisciplinary agencies had been reinventing government for over 25 years, as they advanced their own "space-oceans-Earth" programs. The resident agencies have found that the Jackson Balch axiom of "2 + 2" can equal 5 is accurate when the government entities put away their selfish, bureaucratic pursuits and worked together for a common cause. In fact, a new NASA organization was forged in July 1996 that included an Earth Systems Science Office chartered to participate with and share technologies developed by the several agencies located at the Stennis Space Center.

The Navy's oceanographic complex became one of the nation's foremost centers for underwater studies. The highly technical ocean research laboratories at the Stennis Space Center contained one of the largest and most sophisticated computer capabilities anywhere. An upgrading of the Navy's supercomputer capability was announced in May 1996, for a total projected cost of $170.2 million, to be appropriated as needed, with a commitment to keep upgrading during each of the next 5 years. The new system would elevate the Navy's computer complex to an elite status enjoyed by only a few such cyber-centers in the world. Planning was also done to ensure continued buildup of the computer arrangement into the future.

Even the giant Mississippi Army Ammunition Plant that has been virtually dormant for years, was awakened in early 1997 with announcements (by [435] Senator Trent Lott and Congressman Gene Taylor) that hundreds of professional and skilled personnel from the Navy would be locating in the huge complex. There were even more promises that hundreds of other employees from other directions would be coming soon to help fill the cavernous empty spaces. With these new proclamations, the words, "full utilization" has once again begun to take on a new future meaning.

The huge successes observed in 1996 were the results of works created, nurtured, and advanced by a succession of committed leaders. Among these leaders were the four directors of the installation: Captain William "Bill" Fortune, Jackson Balch, Jerry Hlass, and Roy Estess. Among NASA Administrators and managers who favorably affected the course of history at the Stennis Space Center were Dr. Wernher von Braun, Dr. James Fletcher, Admiral Richard Truly, Richard "Dick" Wisniewski, and Daniel Goldin. Influential politicians who contributed significantly to the center's success were Senators John C. Stennis, Trent Lott, Thad Cochran, and Allen Ellender. Other members of the Congress who supported the Stennis Space Center were U.S. Representatives William "Bill" Colmer, Gene Taylor, and Robert "Bob" Livingston. This political influence created the environment and opportunity that permitted the space center managers to capitalize on the investment made in the people and facilities in Mississippi. Estess has said, "Without this collective influence, much less could have been achieved."

Without the staunch support of the communities surrounding the center, it would have been difficult for the federal government workers or the politicians to have carried out their assigned tasks and gained new missions, such as the Space Shuttle Main Engine test program, commercial remote sensing enterprises, and lead center responsibility for rocket propulsion testing. Men and women from the local communities came forward in the early years and remained consistent in their positive support of NASA and the other endeavors at the center. Some of these key community leaders included Roy Baxter, Jr., Pearlington; Leo Seal, Jr., Dave McDonald, Ellis Cuevas, and Dave Truetel, Jr., of Bay St. Louis; George Schloegel of Gulfport; Charlie Nutter, Ted LeMunyon, Dave Sims, and Allen Goff of Picayune; and Irma Cry of Slidell. An association of community friends was cited for its support of the Stennis Space Center in May 1996 when NASA gave its annual Community Service Award to the Partners For Stennis organization, comprised of area leaders from the Mississippi Gulf Coast and St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana.

[436] True, these NASA, political, and community leaders who stood in the "footlights at the center stage" were enormously responsible for the Stennis Space Center's place in American space history. But, as SSC Director Roy Estess observed shortly after taking office, "The important work of NASA is not accomplished in conference rooms or at meetings. The success comes down to the men and women who work quietly back in the shadows, in the shops, and on the test stands." Estess went on to say, "They go out and do their jobs well on a day-to-day basis without fuss or fanfare. It is their hands that lift the Space Shuttle into space."

The people about whom Estess was talking are the members of the well-known Stennis Space Center "can do" team. NASA Administrator Dan Goldin was astonished at what the small number of about 210 civil servants were able to accomplish in developing rocket propulsion and commercial remote sensing programs. A veteran Stennis Center manager, Doug McLaughlin, put it this way, "We've been able to make do with fewer resources than the other centers for a long time. Cutting corners, working on a shoestring, and finding a 'faster, better, cheaper' way of doing things is nothing new to us."

By the summer of 1996, most of the old NASA territorial and turf disputes and costly competitions for future programs that had kept the Stennis Space Center from operating at its fullest potential in the past had been mitigated by the new breed of engineers and managers in a far less time-consuming and expensive manner than in times past. In fact, there were positive signs that the 1990's generation of engineers and scientists - led by a new wave of Stennis people, including Lon Miller, Mike Dawson, Pat Scheuermann, Richard Gilbrech, David Brannon, Rick Miller, and Gregg Carter - were working across the Agency with their counterparts in a cooperative and cohesive team for the benefit of the national taxpayers and the future of America's space program.

Closer to home where this story started in 1961, the people of southwest Mississippi could see the good of their sacrifices in the important civil and national defense programs under way at the Stennis Space Center. The economic and cultural impacts on the areas around the installation have been dramatic. Positive signs of continued growth are evident with NASA and the resident agencies are preparing to enter the next century. Indeed, the promises of peace and prosperity made by Senator Stennis in his speech at Logtown in 1961 have been kept.

[437] Even as this epilogue is closed, NASA and scientists from academia are examining evidence of life on Mars. Rejuvenated members of the NASA team are excitedly daring again to talk of extending their reach to the other planets in our solar system. When they do initiate programs to finish an exploration begun 35 years ago, no doubt the new pioneers will first tarry a while at the Stennis Space Center to test their spaceship engines before setting sail beyond the bounds of Earth on this new ocean of space. And then what of the history of the Stennis Space Center in the new millennium - in the twenty-first century? It is, to be continued. . ..


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