NASA's First Stop on the Way to Deep Space Is the Mississippi Gulf Coast


When you think of NASA, a few places probably pop into mind: the moon, Cape Canaveral, Houston, and maybe even the International Space Station. That list isn't wrong, but it's certainly not as complete as it could be. You're missing a location that's one of the most crucial in making it all possible: the southern tip of Mississippi.

The NASA tugboat Clermont II transports liquid oxygen to the base of the B-1 Test Stand at Stennis Space Center in 1986

From the Mississippi Gulf Coast to the Moon

From the very beginning, Mississippi has played a key role in getting humans into deep space.

The place where it all begins is the NASA John C. Stennis Space Center in Hancock County on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Every one of NASA's manned missions to space has been powered by the equipment tested here, in NASA's largest rocket engine test facility. The Apollo Program that got the first man on the moon? It was made possible on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The Space Shuttle program that wowed the world from 1981 to 2011? Same place. The making of the Space Launch System (SLS), the world's most powerful rocket with aims to send humanity to Mars? Surely we don't need to tell you where that happened.

Stennis — which was selected as the NASA site for engine testing on Oct. 25, 1961, after an exhaustive process — sits in a sweet spot for rocket test-firing. It's close to the New Orleans facility where the rockets are manufactured, it's not a far shot from Cape Canaveral, Florida where they launch, and it's isolated enough to withstand the earth-shaking noise and dramatic exhaust plumes that come along with rocket testing.

Lucky for all the space, science, and tech lovers of the world, anyone can tour the Stennis Space Center and all of the immense infrastructure and cool gadgetry this self-contained rocket world houses. Hop aboard a bus tour and you can get a 20-mile guided ride through the restricted gates of the 14,000-acre research facility at the heart of the 125,000-acre Stennis buffer zone. A unique bonus of a bus tour on the Mississippi Gulf Coast? When you're not gawking at gigantic rocket engines, you can shift your focus to spot gators in the waterways, too.

F-1 Engine seen on Saturn V display at Stennis visitor center

Seeing Saturn (V)

Not far from the Stennis Space Center is the INFINITY Science Center, NASA's official visitor center for the Stennis Space Center and a non-profit science museum. This center offers enough spacey interactive exhibits, displays, and activities to keep you and your whole family nerding out all day. Here, you can peer at moon rocks, see the real Apollo 4 capsule, complete a walk-through of a mock Space Station, and view a ton of enormous rocket artifacts. And given that this is south Mississippi, many of the exhibits can be enjoyed outdoors.

For example, as of June 2016, you can see a real would-be Apollo first stage Saturn V rocket resting outside. This specimen was built for Apollo 19 but never flew — if it had flown, even successfully, it'd be deep at the bottom of the Atlantic by now. Today, it's one of the only places to stand in awe at the gigantic piece of technology that sent humanity to the moon. But don't think INFINITY is only for space fans. Here, you and your family can also check out things like the Hurricane Prediction Lab, the Carnivorous Plants Conservatory, the nature-filled tram ride through the now-deserted historic community of Possum Walk, the Butterfly Gardens, and more.

If you want to see these space, science, and nature sights for yourself, you can visit the INFINITY Science Center Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (the center is closed on Sunday). Tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for children. For more information about planning a visit, head to

Tickets to the INFINITY Science Center can also be purchased as part of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Museum Pass. For the tour of Stennis, you must purchase a ticket to INFINITY. For more information, check out for everything you need to plan your journey to the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Written by Joanie Faletto June 12, 2018