Stennis Space Center, Bay St. Louis, Miss.
In the Deep South, you'll find grits, greens and rocket engines. This space center tests rocket engines and space shuttle main engines for NASA and others. Surrounded by canals, the place has a neat layout. Stennis uses the waterways to transport rocket parts to the site and then assembles the rockets in separate facilities. The next stage is the test stands, which determine whether rocket engines can fire at high altitudes and in space. Staff members simulate the conditions the engines will encounter by shooting gases at the engine and changing local pressures.
Because NASA's space shuttle program ended in July 2011, the facility's scientists no longer test engines for NASA's shuttles. There's still work to be done though. As private companies design rockets to power commercial spaceflights or to take U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station, Stennis will test the engines [source: Stennis].
Check out the visitors' center for free. Start at the Mississippi Welcome Center, from which shuttles leave every 15 minutes on Wednesdays through Saturdays. The shuttle drives through the center's grounds and drops passengers off at the StenniSphere, which is the museum. Among the facts you'll learn: how much land Stennis needs around it so the rest of Mississippi doesn't hear the rocket engines.
If you'd like to see an engine test, call the Stennis visitors' center to find out the schedule, and you may serendipitously spot one from your tour, where you'd watch from a quarter-mile away.
Start your car, then start your countdown. The next stop is where space shuttles blast off.