Greetings From: Stennis Space Center, MS

A rocket testing stand at the John C. Stennis Space Center in Southern Mississippi.

by Michael Boyink

mike@douglascountyherald.com

Gainesville, MS vanished on January 10th, 1962.

91 residences, two churches, two cemeteries, two stores, a nightclub, and a school. 

Gone.

Logtown, MS disappeared September 30, 1963. 

Somewhere between those dates the Mississippi communities of Santa Rosa, Napoleon, and Westonia also fell off the map.

Not overnight. And not without a fight.

In the early 1960’s, America was on a mission.

We wanted to conquer space. We wanted to put a man on the moon.

Before the Russians did.

To do that, we had to build rockets. New rocket designs had to be tested.

And those rockets?

Loud.

Not freight-train loud. Not 747 loud. Not even headbanging heavy-metal rockband loud.

Loudness is measured in decibels (db). A 1972 Deep Purple concert set a record by hitting 117db. Loud enough to knock three fans unconscious.

At the launch pad, a rocket engine hits 180db.

But decibel math is tricky. Decibels don’t increase at a linear rate, they increase logarithmically. 

Which means a rocket engine isn’t just half-again as loud as a Deep Purple concert.

It’s 64 times louder. 

NASA needed a place to run dangerously loud tests – dangerous to humans, and dangerous to buildings.

Sound travels. NASA needed a big place. 200 square miles big. Ideally forested to help absorb the sound.

It also needed water access. Rocket engines are too big to transport on highways. They needed to be carried by barge.

A rocket engine displayed at the John C. Stennis Space Center.

NASA found what they were looking for in Southern Mississippi and Louisiana. Official documentation described the area as mostly “a boggy swamp and a desolate forest.” Cutting through the trees was the Pearl River, which connected to the Mississippi River and provided the necessary barge access.

Identifying the rocket testing site was the easy part.

Now NASA had to acquire it.

2750 property owners held title to lands including large timber businesses, farms, homesteads, and empty building lots in residential subdivisions. 

As you might imagine, not everyone was happy about being forced to sell. Conflicts flared up. Committees were formed. Senators were appealed to. Relocation costs were negotiated.

Meanwhile, the clock was ticking. Deadlines set by the Apollo program hastened the inevitable. 

Faced with eventual forced eviction, deals were struck. People started moving.

Many took their houses with them. Reports described “a line of big trucks hauling houses, awkwardly jerking and swaying on trailers, slowly rolling down old Highway 43.”

One of those homes swaying down the highway belonged to Cora Blue Davis. 

Hancock County Historical Society Photo
Cora Blue Davis on the porch of her house.

Government officers had tried to negotiate with her. But Cora would not leave her home. Not for money. Not for some government man in a suit. And not to help put a man on the moon.

Irresistible force meets immovable object.

But this wasn’t physics class. Someone understood human pride. Maybe a whisper was made into the ears of those government men.

And that’s why, on that day in 1962, Cora Blue Davis sat in her rocking chair, on the front porch of her house as movers towed it down old Highway 43.

By December of 1962, flag-raising ceremonies had been held and officials had moved in

The first static test firing of the Saturn rockets destined for use in the Apollo program took place at Stennis Space Center on April 23, 1966.

And on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong was the first man to step out onto the moon.

Back on earth, Cora Blue Davis and hundreds of other people watched Armstrong from new homes, or old homes on new properties. 

They realized that, like it or not, they had contributed to Armstrong’s “giant leap for mankind.”

They had helped put a man on the moon.

Tours of the John C. Stennis Space Center can be booked via the  nearby Infinity Science Center: visitinfinity.com.