Space Shuttle Tests: Whole Lotta Quaking When space shuttle rocket engines are tested a mile from listener Stephan Howden's office in Mississippi, some folks think it's an earthquake. Howden says the rumbling reminds him of being close to a train that's going by.
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Space Shuttle Tests: Whole Lotta Quaking

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Space Shuttle Tests: Whole Lotta Quaking

Space Shuttle Tests: Whole Lotta Quaking

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Mr. STEPHEN HOWDEN (University of Southern Mississippi): And I have a sound clip for you. It's the shuttle engine test here at the Stennis Space Center.

SIEGEL: We've been offering listeners a chance to tell us about sounds in their lives and we're sharing them with you.

Today's sound clip comes from the Gulf Coast, right on the Mississippi/Louisiana border. And even though I'm broadcasting today from Washington D.C., earlier this week I was along the Gulf Coast. And when Steve Howden called us and told us about the sound that he hears in his office in Mississippi, we decided to drive over and take a listen for ourselves.

Let's let him tell us some more about the sound he hears of testing space shuttle main engines.

Mr. HOWDEN: Test stands - there are several here. There in a group of the Stennis space site, and NASA doesn't let us know when there are going to have a test.

(Soundbite of rocket test)

Unidentified Male #1: This is 38.5 degrees.

Mr. HOWDEN: When the rocket test start up there is a low rumbling sound and I can feel the vibrations throughout the building.

(Soundbite of rocket test)

Mr. HOWDEN: I guess the rumbling is kind of the same as been close to a train that's going by.

(Soundbite of rocket test)

Mr. HOWDEN: Years ago we had a professor from the West Coast that was giving a seminar and in the middle of the seminar, the rocket test started up. And he got pretty scared, because he thought it was a earthquake.

(Soundbite of rocket test)

Mr. HOWDEN: Back during the Saturn program when they were testing those engines, apparently windows would break within a certain radius. I don't remember how big that radius was, but that's the reason for the 20 mile buffer zone around the center.

(Soundbite of rocket test)

SIEGEL: That's Steven Howden at the University of Southern Mississippi. He's based at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. He was talking about the sound of space shuttle main engines being tested.

As to why we hear this sound here in Mississippi, we've asked David Throckmorton who is Deputy Director of the John C. Stennis Space Center.

What are you doing out there with the test?

Mr. DAVID THROCKMORTON (John C. Stennis Space Center): We are continually demonstrating the reliability of the main engines on the space shuttle system that take our astronauts into orbit. The way we ensure the safety and reliability of those engines is to test and test and test them on the ground.

SIEGEL: Now the engine that we're hearing tested in this case is not itself an entire that is either been in or is going up in an orbiter, but they are part of components in it that are been tested for flight.

Mr. THROCKMORTON: Most frequently, we will be testing ground engines on which we can attach the various components that will ultimately be included in a flight engine. But there are times that we will have a complete flight engine that is brought to us that we'll acceptance test to assure that it's ready to commit to flight.

SIEGEL: So the benefit to us for the cost of all the testing, the benefit is when there is a shuttle launch there really shouldn't be any part in that that hasn't experienced conditions of a launch.

Mr. THROCKMORTON: Absolutely, if an engineer looks critically at the total space shuttle system and asks the question what is the most dangerous risky part of the system? Statistically speaking, because these machines pack so much power in such a small volume and a small weight, the space shuttle main engines are statically the most dangerous part of the space shuttle system.

But we have never had a failure of a space shuttle main engine on launch, and the reason is we have a very, very active and rigorous test program that assures us the reliability of those engines and their component parts.

SIEGEL: Does it become routine, unexciting at some point?

Mr. THROCKMORTON: Absolutely not. There are those who will tell you that what we do at this center is the second best show in America's space program.

SIEGEL: Well, David Throckmorton, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. THROCKMORTON: You are quite welcome. It was my pleasure and we've been glad to have you at Stennis Space Center today.

SIEGEL: Mr. Throckmorton is the Deputy Director of the John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

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