Rocket test brings U.S. missions to deep space more likely

STENNIS SPACE CENTER -- America took one big step closer to space travel Wednesday. The J-2X rocket engine, which one day will carry astronauts into deep space was test-fired here.

For any who thought NASA’s space exploration had ended with the last space shuttle flight this year, this test at Stennis Space Center proved otherwise. Heavy clouds cover hung above the test stand and fog, created by liquid oxygen used to cool the system, rolled beneath it. The crowd of reporters, Stennis personnel and guests grew quiet awaiting the 3 p.m. firing.

Similar to a NASA launch sequence, each department contacted by radio answered, “ready for test.” Ignition brought a burst of steam that grew so thick over the 8-minute, 20-second firing that at times the white cloud rose from the trees and obscured the test stand. After 499.97 seconds, the J-2X shut down as the crowd applauded.

“The engine performed exactly as we expected it to,” said Michael Kynard, manager of the Space Launch System Liquid Engines Element at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.

J-2X is the first of five developmental engines that will never make it into space. After final assembly at the Pratt & Whitney plant at Stennis, each will be tested and improved 12 times to create the optimal second-stage rocket.

“The whole idea is to demonstrate it meets the requirements,” said Walt Janowski, J-2X program manager.

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