Rice University’s Student Newspaper — Since 1916

Friday, April 19, 2024 — Houston, TX

Let’s help launch commercial spaceflight

12/1/15 5:08pm

Just over 50 years ago, President John F. Kennedy stood less than a mile from where you stand and galvanized a nation. His words, “We choose to go to the moon … not because [it] is easy, but because [it] is hard,” led to one of humanity’s crowning achievements and the 20th century’s proudest moments, and Rice is still known as the university where the space race began.

Two weeks ago, Will Pomerantz, the vice president of Virgin Galactic, visited campus with a similar but fundamentally different challenge. He spoke of the coming commercial space race and very pointedly asked that Rice students join his team. I firmly believe Rice has the chance to continue its legacy as the national epicenter where extraterrestrial dreams are realized and challenges are answered. 

Rice alumni from all over the aerospace industry have sought to recruit more Rice students. Josh Earnest, a Sid Rich alumnus and the current  White House press secretary, ventured, “The United States is on an ambitious and sustainable path of space exploration, and the development of a commercial space industry in this country has had significant economic benefits for communities all across the country … The president continues to believe overall in the value of investments in our space program and in space exploration.” From the mechanical engineering department to the Baker Institute, professors and scholars from around campus recognize the growing importance of space policy and education. 

In 30 years, companies like SpaceX, Planet Labs and Blue Origin (all wildly successful start-up spaceflight companies) will stand as giants beside Boeing and Google, and a new kind of space race will be underway. Profit and nonmilitary competition will drive the industry instead of politicians, and costs of spaceflight will decrease sharply. When a company begins cutting corners and falters, another commercial venture will rise to take its place. Earnest has also said, “[The burgeoning private aerospace industry] also is something that has led to important innovation — that this kind of competition has yielded innovative results and advancements for the space industry.” Already in the last 10 years, the cost of putting one pound of technology in orbit dove from $10,000 to $3,000, with more savings on the way. In the next 50 years, human planetary exploration, space tourism and even asteroid mining will be within reach of our earthbound culture. Imagine being alive when the first human puts boots on the ground on Mars instead of Iraq, or Europa instead of Ukraine. Spaceflight is the act of discovery that inspires nations and the world to undertake missions that are seemingly impossible, missions that will captivate the our imagination.

Although Rice already has a multitude of opportunities for those who are interested in joining the commercial space race, you can take three simple steps that would revolutionize the campus attitude and awareness. Firstly, look up the Rice Space Institute (many students have never even heard of it), an offshoot of the first space science department ever established in this country. It has an amazing staff who are filled with a passion for education. Secondly, reach out to more aerospace companies and alumni. Even if many aerospace companies do not visit Rice campus, a Rice education is one of the best in the nation, and many students every year graduate into the aerospace industry. Many alumni, from Josh Earnest to Peggy Whitson (one of our eight alumni astronauts), deal with the aerospace industry on a regular basis, and they can provide unique insight and motivation for developing Rice students. Lastly, find your passion. Rice is unconventional not because of any physical aspect, but because each and every student has a passion, and the passions of today lead to the dreams of tomorrow. When Kennedy spoke that warm September day, the world changed, and I cannot wait to see how Rice will respond to the changing space industry.

Andrew Gatherer is a Brown College sophomore

More from The Rice Thresher

OPINION 4/16/24 10:18pm
Do more to make campus bird-friendly

April is the month of many things: Beer Bike, a solar eclipse, the last day of classes and, perhaps lesser known, Earth Month. As Rice launches a series of Earth Month events, I would like to address our potential as a campus community to be more environmentally conscious, particularly in an effort to make this campus more friendly to birds.

OPINION 4/10/24 2:41pm
Student activism is working – and fear-mongering cannot hold us back

S.RES 02, titled “Student Association Boycott and Divestment from Corporations Complicit in the Ongoing Genocide in Gaza,” was presented to the Student Association on March 25. This resolution proposes the creation of an Ethical Spending Advisory Board designed to ensure that Blanket Tax funds are not dedicated to corporations that are complicit in Israeli colonial violence and apartheid based on guidelines created by the BDS movement. 


Please note All comments are eligible for publication by The Rice Thresher.