October 25, 2020

Mississippi moonshot: John C. Stennis Space Center, where Apollo’s Saturn rockets first fired

Dozens and dozens of Mississippians worked at what was then called the Mississippi Test Facility in Hancock County as the Apollo program was getting underway.

At that location the powerful Saturn V rockets were tested. What is now called John C. Stennis Space Center, sits on the banks of the Pearl River near the Mississippi-Louisiana border. The site was key to testing and certifying the powerful rockets that took NASA astronauts to the moon.

From 1967 until 1972, Stennis test fired all first and second stages of the Saturn V rocket for the Apollo Program.

Michoud Assembly Facility manufactured the large rocket stages in nearby New Orleans. The stages were barged to Stennis. After testing, the stages were transported by barge once more, this time across the Gulf of Mexico to Kennedy Space Center, Florida, where they were prepared for launch on Apollo missions.

The first test firing on April 23, 1966, represented a “vital” milestone for the Apollo Program, NASA historians write. Altogether, Stennis conducted 42 tests for the Apollo Program, including ones on all of the engines used on the program’s manned missions. Apollo astronauts were safely transported the 240,250 miles to the moon by engines tested for flight worthiness in Mississippi.