Prior to the construction of Interstate 10, visitors to the area could tour a small visitor center, StenniSphere, to learn about the tens of Federal and state labs and offices located in the research complex hosted by NASA at the Stennis Space Center. Guided tours would leave from the little museum several times a day, taking guests along a bus route of seemingly incongruous primordial swamps and massive rocket test stands.
Eventually, bus tours would leave for StenniSphere and the test stands from the I-10 Mississippi Welcome Center at Exit 2 East, an arrangement through the State of Mississippi that provided more people better access to the NASA facility.
In 2001, a group of visionaries came together and formed a non-profit foundation with the goal of raising funds to create a science center that would take over much of the StenniSphere mission and serve as a regional focal point for science research and science education.
NASA was an early partner in the effort, dedicating 199 leasable acres four miles south of the Stennis Space Center main entrance, next to the Welcome Center. Other state, corporate and private partners saw the potential of the project and over the next two years, contributed to a feasibility study and architectural and exhibition design.
The dream endured through the destruction Hurricane Katrina left in her wake. The Mississippi Governor’s Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal declared that the INFINITY Science Center was “critical to the recovery of the Gulf Coast” and planning resumed. The state contributed $12 million towards the museum’s construction.
Dedicated in 2012, the 70,000 sq. ft. INFINITY Science Center now features an education wing; indoor and outdoor artifacts; Earth and space exhibit galleries; theaters; and live programs and demonstrations. Educational exhibits draw content from real-life space and ocean exploration activities conducted by the more than 30 labs and offices at the nearby research complex. INFINITY’s CaFe and Odyssey Gift Shop serve both interstate travelers and Stennis Space Center employees. In the few short years it’s been open, INFINITY has seen an annual average of about 60,000 visitors…and the number is steadily growing.
After the Deep Water Horizon oil spill in 2010, Mississippi identified INFINITY as one of five recipients for restoration funds, tasking the science center with educating future generations about environmental protection. Between now and 2018, returning guests and school groups will find enhanced nature trails, an environmental monitoring education program, guided tram tours down the Possum Walk Trail, new indoor and outdoor exhibits and more.
Fred Haise, retired Apollo 13 astronaut and Biloxi, MS, native, serves as vice-chairman of the INFINITY Board of Directors. He is an ardent supporter of the museum and has dedicated much of his time to its success over the past several years.
“INFINITY is located at the apex of Mississippi’s and Louisiana’s brain trust,” says Haise. “Around here, world-changing discoveries are daily occurrences. As a showcase for all this new knowledge, INFINITY can ignite in young minds the concept of positive change. The center can spark in this blossoming generation the belief that everyone has the potential to make the world better and that each of them should explore, develop and then use their talents to the best of their abilities.”