As a first-grader growing up in Houston, I had never referred to anyone as “my hero” until the afternoon John Glenn returned to earth following his groundbreaking orbital mission in February 1962, so it is with a blend of sadness, pride and nostalgia that I write this letter on the very day the world learned of his passing (Dec. 8).
My growing obsession with space travel was shared by people throughout the Houston community, and within a year of Glenn’s flight my home town became popularly known as “Space City” — a term that became Houston’s official nickname in 1967 and was later used with a certain sense of irony during the heyday of the counterculture in the 1970s. It is difficult to overstate how proud my middle school friends and I were when “Houston” was one of the first words spoken from the surface of the moon by Neil Armstrong, a mere seven and a half years after John Glenn’s modest three-orbit flight. (The immediate, less-than-noble reaction from my 14-year-old brain was “Take that, Dallas!”)
I matriculated at Rice four years after the moon landing, and by that time I had seen a clip of President John F. Kennedy’s famous speech at Rice Stadium in which he declared the nation’s determination to make it to the moon and back within the decade. Since then, I have come to appreciate the critical role Rice and its people played in many of mankind’s most significant achievements in space science and research.
As members of the Rice community, we have the privilege to share in that great legacy and the accomplishments of the people who helped to make Rice an institution synonymous with innovation — from President Kenneth Pitzer who was instrumental in founding the first university space science program in 1963, Peggy Whitson ’85 who has commanded the International Space Station twice during her career as an astronaut (she’s in orbit now!), and the professors, researchers and students at Rice today who are hard at work tackling tomorrow’s challenges in space policy and exploration.
This edition of the All-Alumni Newsletter celebrates that legacy by highlighting Rice’s place on the cutting edge of space innovation — yesterday, today and in the future — with an entertaining and informative quiz featuring questions spanning over 50 years of space history, a profile of five alums currently working in space, and a profile of students who are working towards careers that could very well help shape how we interact with space in the future. I know that many of you have your own Rice in space stories to tell, so I encourage you to share yours here so that it can be included on our Rice alumni stories page.
As I mentioned in my October message, I urge you to get to know the talented and dedicated group of people who make up the Association of Rice Alumni (ARA) Board. This month, we’ve added even more information to the ARA Board profiles page, including members’ bios and personal anecdotes from their Rice experiences. Please take a few minutes to learn more about your board members by clicking the link on this page.
And, as always, I encourage you to become involved in Rice alumni events taking place across the map, especially as the 2017 event calendar begins to be filled. For example, January features six regional alumni holiday parties celebrating the New Year!
From your ARA Board, we wish you happy holidays and a joyful New Year’s.
Shannon Vale '77
President, Association of Rice Alumni