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Rice reflects on Kennedy's famous moon speech

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A cardboard cutout of Kennedy behind a replica podium was present at the event.

By Sarah Frazier     11/12/14 8:01am

As part of the homecoming lecture series, Director of Rice Space Institute David Alexander reflected on Nov. 7 on how Rice is continuing the legacy of President John Kennedy’s famous speech at Rice Stadium.

“[Kennedy’s speech] is one of the highlights of the hundred years of Rice,” Alexander said at the lecture, titled “Continuing the Legacy of the Kennedy Speech at Rice Stadium." “It’s still relevant in 2014, [roughly] 50 years after the speech.”

According to Alexander, some of Rice’s current programs and accomplishments are a direct result of Rice’s role in the early space program.



“Rice created the very first department dedicated to the space sciences,” Alexander said. “Over the course of 50 years, we’ve graduated 248 Ph.D.s. We have instruments on the moon.”

The space race was primarily motivated by the prospect of beating the Soviet Union, Alexander said.

“There was this competition for all the wrong reasons,” Alexander said. “It wasn’t about science, it wasn’t about technology. [It] was the drive … to prevent the Russians from claiming technological superiority.”

However, the space program has been key to the United States’ technological and economic development, according to Alexander.

“The biggest spin-off [of the space program] was the number of people who entered science, technology, engineering and math,” Alexander said. “The American economy became the economy of the world because of [this].”

According to Alexander, the space program has motivated cooperation with other nations in a way Kennedy probably could not have predicted.

“[Kennedy would] be amazed that right now the biggest piece of hardware we have in space was built by different countries [and] one of the partners is Russia,” Alexander said.

Kennedy would likely be discouraged by the lack of progress since the moon landing, according to Alexander.

“Kennedy said we’d get to the moon by the end of the decade, and we did,” Alexander said. “[But] he’d be very surprised … by how little we’ve done in the 45 years since.”

McMurtry College senior Shane Alpert said she hopes Rice will continue the legacy of collaboration with the space program.

“I think Rice should be involved with … the future of the space program,” Alpert said. “Their connection to NASA is partially why I chose to attend Rice, and it’s an important role that they should continue to hold.”

Alexander said thinking about space needs to change.

“We need to be thinking of space as … what it does for us on Earth,” Alexander said. “Space isn’t just a destination; it’s a resource.”



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