A massive rocket booster will now greet visitors driving into Mississippi on I-10 from Louisiana. MPB’s Evelina Burnett reports, supporters of the Infinity Science Center hope it will provide a boost for the four-year-old museum as well.
The 138-foot-long Saturn V rocket booster was built in 1970. It was to be used on Apollo 19, but the Apollo program was canceled before that mission took off.
Earlier this week, the booster was moved from Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans to its new home at Infinity Science Center in Pearlington.
"It was an epic journey," says John Wilson, Infinity’s executive director. "We had to load it onto a barge, transit across land, and then about 40 miles by water through the Intercoastal Waterway and up the east Pearl River. Then finally we had to shut down Interstate 10, eastbound and westbound, last night for a period of approximately an hour while it trekked from Stennis Space Center, where it was unloaded to here in its location."
A feasibility study done before the opening of the center predicted it would attract 300,000 visitors a year. It’s currently bringing in about 75,000. But, that number is growing each year.
Apollo 13 astronaut Fred Haise, who serves on the board of Infinity, hopes this new exhibit will help attract even more visitors.
"We have 32 pylons down, on the west side of the building. That's where it will sit, with the engines outboard, so people will see it from Interstate 10. In fact, it's the first thing you'll see when you drive into Mississippi from Louisiana," he says. "It's an icon we hope will make a few people interested in stopping."
Haise, a Biloxi native, was to be commander of the canceled Apollo 19 mission. Another Gulf Coast connection: the rocket booster was tested at Stennis Space Center, just down the road from its new home.
"We have long hoped to be able to compete with most of the great space exhibits around the country," says Governor Phil Bryant. "We needed this. This is something that would have been a rocket to the moon. So I think people all over the Southeast are going to come here, see it there off the interstate, make sure that they stop, show their children what the real Apollo space program looked like, and we're going to welcome them to Mississippi."