HANCOCK COUNTY -- The direct global economic impact of Stennis Space Center reached $940 million in 2013, and the direct impact on the local economy was $619 million.
These numbers come in a year of furloughs and sequestration and Center Director Rick Gilbrech said Thursday at his annual community breakfast briefing Thursday at Infinity Science Center he expects 2014 to be as good or better than last year.
The government shutdown had an effect on the economic impact of Stennis. Last year's numbers were down from the 2012 global impact of $976 million and local impact of $654 million within a 50-mile radius.
Stennis now has 41 resident agencies and 5,000 total employees, and Gilbrech said the best chance for more jobs will come if Stennis is successful in expanding the FAA restricted air space. That could bring high-paying jobs for unmanned aerial systems, or drones, and would help support special operations activities for the U.S. military at Stennis.
"I think there's just a great potential for this to really grow," he said.
Two new supercomputers will be installed at the Defense Shared Resource Center at the Naval Oceanographic Office at Stennis. Bill Burnett, deputy commander and technical director at Naval Oceanography Command, said they will take Stennis from being among the top 50 of super computing capabilities in the world to the Top 20.
"So we're gradually increasing our computing capability and are hoping in a couple of years we'll be back at the top 10," he said.
The computers will be named "Shepard" and "Armstrong," in honor of astronauts Alan Shepard and Neil Armstrong, and will help the oceanographers and meteorologists improve ocean modeling, said Burnett. The computers will be shared by NASA, the Department of Homeland Security and General Services Administration, also located in Area 9 at Stennis, creating a nucleus for supercomputing, said Gilbrech.
Stennis continues to evolve and change, he said, and in 2013 began preparations for testing engines for NASA's new Space Launch System that will return the United States to manned launches.
"We have a long and successful history of testing not only NASA's rockets, but commercial companies are coming here as well," he said. Stennis is joining with Michoud in New Orleans to increase efficiencies and they will be part of this year's scheduled launch of an unmanned test flight of Orion to collect information on launch, re-entry and landing.
In 2021, NASA is scheduled to send a manned flight to orbit the moon, the first return since Apollo 17.
"Most people don't know that the United States pays $70 million to send an astronaut to the International Space Station," said U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo. "One of my No. 1 priorities as chairman of the Space Subcommittee is to make sure that we get back to launching American astronauts from American rockets from American soil and not way off in the future but as soon as possible,"
Palazzo said there isn't a lot of talk in Washington about space exploration. "But when you actually talk about the fact that other countries aggressively pursuing space programs and this is a matter of national pride and it becomes a matter of national security, making sure we have a strong presence in space, then they become very supportive of the space program."