Dr. Rick Gilbrech


We recently recognized a pivotal moment in my life, the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission that landed the first humans on the moon. It is one of the most extraordinary feats of humankind, an embodiment of ingenuity and desire for exploration. As a child of the Apollo generation, I know the excitement of the nation when at the age of 7, I witnessed Americans and the world rally together with enthusiasm for mankind’s first steps on another heavenly body. That event set my life onto a new, unalterable path to work for NASA and be part of human exploration. Stennis Space Center played a critical role in my career and in that historic accomplishment.

Stennis was built to test the very rocket stages that launched those first humans to the moon. On April 23, 1966, the site conducted its first test of Saturn V rocket stage on the A-2 Test Stand. Mississippi had officially entered the Space Age, and our nation was on its way to the moon.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced recently that Stennis will test the Space Launch System core stage, also known as “Green Run test.” Our Mississippi delegations in Washington D.C. praised this decision, reinforcing Mississippi’s vital role in human space exploration. We have been preparing with upgrades and modifications and are ready to test the core stage and support the agency any way needed.

Our predecessors faced many challenges when they were establishing NASA and developing a space program. They were relentless in achieving the required results for mission success, as were Stennis employees. Mississippi is one of the few states that has had its footprints in the space program since the early days.

Stennis has tested NASA’s rocket engines, stages and components since 1966. After the Apollo program ended, the center tested the space shuttle main engines for 34 years. In 2015, we began testing RS-25 engines for NASA’s new Artemis program to send humans forward to the moon and, ultimately, carry them on to Mars. Artemis is NASA’s program to return astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024, including the first woman and the next man. When they land, our American astronauts will step foot where no human has ever been before: the moon’s south pole.

Stennis will continue to test the RS-25 engines that will be used to power the new Space Launch System rocket on its Artemis missions. In 2020, we will be testing the SLS core stage. Working with U.S. companies and international partners, NASA will push the boundaries of human exploration forward to the moon for this program. As a result of Artemis, NASA will be able to establish a sustainable human presence on the Moon by 2028 to uncover new scientific discoveries, demonstrate new technological advancements and lay the foundation for private companies to build a lunar economy.

Once more, it is an assignment of considerable difficulty and challenge, and Stennis employees are responding with commitment and ingenuity. Just as it did 50 years ago, this nation will travel to the moon and deep space through south Mississippi.

Stennis continues to make history – from that first test 53 years ago to today as humans prepare to travel even deeper into space. I ask you to join with us at Stennis in the enthusiasm and American spirit as we go forward to the moon – and beyond!

DR. RICK GILBRECH is director of NASA’s Stennis Space Center and is responsible for implementing NASA’s world-class rocket propulsion test program. For more about Stennis Space Center, visit: www.nasa.gov/centers/stennis/

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