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Rice Celebrates 60th Anniversary of JFK Moon Speech, Begins Search for Mankind's Next Steps

By Viola Hsia   

Rice and NASA celebrated the official 60th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s moon speech on Sept. 12. Students from both Rice and the Houston independent school district, faculty, NASA officials and federal, state and local officials attended the ceremony. 

The event was organized by the Director of Rice’s Space Institute, David Alexander. Leading up to the event, Alexander said he was excited for the ceremony and that he believes the celebration was still important decades after Kennedy’s speech.

“Most of our modern life is based around space in some way,” Alexander said, “We’re using satellites for everything, whether for social media, communications, navigation, control[or] farming. We can now go regularly and routinely to space. [JFK’s speech] really accelerated it all. And that happened here at

Rice University, at Rice stadium, and we should be celebrating our 60th anniversary.”

The ceremony began with a welcome video and opening remarks from Alexander, followed by a few videos focusing on President Kennedy. During a video focused on the JFK library, a HISD student at the event ran onto the stage and yelled a salutation into the microphone. He promptly ran off, police close behind. 

Despite this, the ceremony continued, with a speech from President Reginald DesRoches, which reflected on the legacy of Kennedy’s words. DesRoches said, prior to the event, that JFK’s speech had inspired Americans to believe in their country’s ability to achieve anything.

“Up to that time, throughout all of human history, people looked up in the sky and saw the moon as something that was beyond their reach,” DesRoches said. “President Kennedy came to Rice that day to declare that this nation was going to make what seemed impossible into a reality.”

DesRoches’ speech was followed by the director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Vanessa Wyche. In her speech, Wyche recognized the newest generation of astronauts, who are part of NASA’s new Artemis mission. The first mission, which will be unmanned, is currently set to be launched on Sept. 27. 

“Together we will inspire the next generation, the Artemis generation,” Wyche said, “Giant leaps start here.”

Prior to the event, Wyche said that future Artemis missions would put the first woman and the first person of color on the moon.

“In the 60s, only men had been to the surface of the moon.” Wyche said in an interview with the Thresher. “Now we have a more diverse astronaut corps. This is an opportunity for us to have women and minorities.”

Several government representatives and NASA representatives also spoke, including former senator, astronaut and current NASA administrator, Bill Nelson. Nelson spoke to the Thresher about the future of NASA, beyond the Artemis missions, to destinations farther than the moon.

“We’re going back to the moon, but this time for a very different reason,” Nelson said. “We’re going back to learn to live and to work, and to prepare and to create new technologies in order to send humans further out into the universe. And the first step is Mars.”

Other keynote speakers at the event include Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson, Representative Brian Babin, Representative Al Green, Representative Sylvia Garcia, Representative Lizzie Fletcher and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. There were also video speeches from Senators John Cornyn, Ted Cruz and

Representative Randy Weber. Former astronauts Jean Loup-Chretien and Shannon Walker (Brown ‘87, M.S. ‘92, Ph.D. ‘93) also spoke. 

The event closed with a speech delivered by NASA’s associate administrator, Bob Cabana, followed by a poem from Avalon Hogans, Houston’s Youth Poet Laureate and a freshman at Rice.

In reflecting on the larger implications of space exploration on society, Nelson said he saw one unified planet Earth from orbit when he went to space for the first time. 

“I looked out as we orbited the Earth every hour and a half, and I did not see racial division. I didn’t see religious division. I didn’t see political division,” Nelson said. “What I saw was [that] we were all citizens of the planet Earth.”  

Read at The Rice Thresher