The folks behind the INFINITY project announced last week that they have scheduled a groundbreaking for the 72,000 square-foot science center. The ceremony is scheduled for Thursday. The $38 million center will be built near the Mississippi Welcome Center at Interstate 10, and it's designed to spark interest in the science activities at nearby Stennis Space Center. The center is expected to be a substantial tourist attraction for the region, and will focus on several science fields, including aerospace, marine science and more.
Late last week space shuttle Endeavour lifted off for a 15-day mission to prepare the International Space Station for a six-member crew. Shuttle launches are of interest to the Gulf Coast region workers because the external tanks are made at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and the engines tested at Mississippi's Stennis Space Center.
But many in the space program are busy looking ahead as well. Last week the high-performance J-2X rocket engine completed a critical design review at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The J-2X engine was developed by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne and will power the upper stage of the Ares I rocket and the Earth departure stage of the Ares V. Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne does a lot of J-2X work at Stennis Space Center.
One final piece of NASA-related news was the decision by former Stennis Space Center director Rick Gilbrech to leave the agency for the private sector. Gilbrech is stepping down as associate administrator for exploration systems. He left Stennis for that post back in the summer of 2007.
The Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter flew supersonic for the first time last week, accelerating to Mach 1.05, or about 680 miles per hour. The test was done a full internal load of inert or “dummy” weapons on the one-hour flight. That may be of interest to the folks around Eglin Air Force Base, which is scheduled to become home to a Joint Strike Fighter training center. The city of Valparaiso, Fla., and the Air Force are still sparring over the noise issue. Last week city officials met behind closed doors to discuss the suit.
At Tyndall Air Force Base near Panama City, four student pilots last week became the first graduates of the Air Force’s F-22 Raptor Basic Course. These pilots are the first in the Air Force to have the F-22 as their first operational aircraft rather than transitioning to the Raptor from some other fighter.
There was some commercial airport news as well last week. Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport in Gulfport, Miss, which recently wrapped up a $50 million expansion, is now looking at some road improvement projects. That was a bit of good news for the airport, which learned late last week that Allegiant Air is ending its service to and from Orlando in January. Meanwhile, in New Orleans, Larry Austin, a former Florida highway patrol commander, was named federal security director for Louis Armstrong International Airport.