SP-4310 Way Station to Space


- Foreword -



[v] Way Station to Space is a history of the NASA John C. Stennis Space Center (SSC), one of NASA's 10 field centers built in the enormously exciting days of the Apollo program for a specific purpose- to static fire and certify the huge Saturn V boosters used in the Apollo lunar landing program. With an eye to the future, the facility was planned as a national testing site for large propulsion systems that NASA might use for 25-50 years.

This book provides the reader with a study of the Apollo era when NASA engineers, technicians, and managers were engaged in that fantastic mission. It captures a sense of the excitement and determination of the NASA team as it prepared for those historic journeys to our nearest planetary neighbor. This history, however, also illustrates the evolution of the south Mississippi facility beyond the Apollo era.

The development of the traditions and pride of the NASA government and contractor teams formulated during those early years is likewise portrayed. As is pointed out in the text, few of the men and women of that time are still actively working with us, but their tradition of excellence and hard work lives on.

As the Apollo program began to ebb, the nation focused on social priorities on Earth and on our endangered environment. The Vietnam War escalated and consumed our nation's human and financial resources. Our citizens, who had heartily endorsed NASA's early plans of space exploration, became distracted with evolving interests and the changing times. The Agency fell into a downward turn in its plans for explorations- to colonize the Moon, construct a space station, and mount a human mission to Mars.

Under creative management, the Mississippi team began to study the nation's new priorities with the intention of becoming an integral part of the changing times. The Mississippi facility diversified and brought in other federal and state agencies to help share the cost of the installation and use of the developing technology. The MTF personnel began looking for other customers, private and commercial, in addition to their new government tenants. The men and women of the MTF were, in a real sense, "reinventing" government over 25 years ago.

Way Station to Space takes the reader back through those interesting times and relates the story of how the small team evolved into a paradigm of [vi] engineering and scientific cooperation for others to follow. The MTF team recycled facilities and resources; turning part of the huge installation into a diverse environmental research center. The Stennis Space Center now serves as a model of multiagency synergy and is home to many federal and state agencies, universities, and private industry. In 1996 the Stennis Space Center was named NASA's lead center for Commercial Remote Sensing. This small, but ambitious team is helping to give birth to a multibillion-dollar industry.

This new addition to the NASA history series also illustrates how the men and women of this south Mississippi facility met challenges head-on. They not only preserved their installation, but they built a new foundation for the future. As a result, in 1996 the Stennis Space Center was officially designated as NASA's lead center for rocket propulsion testing in addition to being the lead center for commercial remote sensing.

Way Station to Space is not only the history of one of NASA's field centers, but it is also an allegory of the Center's relationship to the local community, its sister field centers, and to NASA Headquarters. It was written by an award-winning author Mack R. Herring, a 33 year veteran of NASA. Herring spent most of his career as a public affairs officer, historian, and writer for NASA at the Stennis Space Center. He has spent the last six years gathering information and writing this history. His corporate memory is noted, but the reader will find this history well documented with interviews, letters, and a variety of other sources.

Not only does this history tell an interesting story about the Stennis Space Center and NASA's first decades of space exploration, it also offers a guide to the changing times ahead as we approach the new millennium. Perhaps just as importantly, Way Station to Space captures the true spirit of NASA that abides with us today and gives us a liberal dose of inspiration as we meet the challenges of tomorrow.


Daniel S. Goldin
NASA Administrator