Tag Archives: JFK

Rice University and NASA Honor the Moment We Chose to Go to the Moon and Do the Other Things

On September 12, 1962, President John F. Kennedy delivered his Address at Rice University on the Nation’s Space Effort to land an American on the moon by the end of the decade. In the years that followed, Kennedy’s address became known as the “We choose to go to the Moon” speech.

Sadly, President Kennedy did not live to see Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin take humankind’s first steps on the lunar surface on July 20, 1969, roughly five months before the end of the decade laid out in JFK’s speech.

While JFK’s life was taken a little over a year after his address, his words have lived on as an example of what people are capable of when they seek to answer a call to overcome what many see as impossible odds.

Rice University, in collaboration with NASA, celebrated the 60th Anniversary of JFK’s “We choose to go to the Moon” speech at Rice Stadium on September 12, 2022.
Photo R. Anderson

Earlier this week I had the honor of attending a celebration of the 60th Anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s “We choose to go to the moon speech” at Rice University.

I was not alive when JFK made his speech. However, as a third-generation aerospace worker, his words, and the actions they triggered in the decades that followed, have been a part of my life in one way or another for as long as I can remember. As such, I consider myself fortunate to have been a small part of the celebration of such a historical moment.

Growing up in Florida, I never imagined I would have reason to step foot on the Rice University campus. However, once I moved to Texas shortly after graduating college, I had the opportunity to cover a high school football playoff game at Rice Stadium while working as a sports editor for a Houston area newspaper. I was even offered a job to work at Rice at one point, but chose to go in a different direction.

While the field turf has changed since the days when a Super Bowl was played, and a “moonshot” speech were given, each time I set foot inside the stadium I still felt the magnitude of being somewhere that had experienced its share of historical moments.

While the field turf has changed since the days when a Super Bowl was played, and a “moonshot” speech were given inside the stadium, each time I set foot inside the stadium I still felt the magnitude of being somewhere that had experienced its share of historical moments. Photo R. Anderson

Despite those previous trips inside Rice Stadium, nothing really prepared me for the realization that I would be inside the stadium listening to a recording of JFK’s we choose to go to the moon speech exactly 60 years after it was given.

Walking up to the stadium I was greeted by a larger than life mural of JFK on the stadium’s upper deck. Seeing the mural, the magnitude of the event started to sink in.

Once inside the stadium, I had the opportunity to chat with former NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine. Serving as NASA Administrator during the presidency of Donald Trump, Bridenstine played a large role in spearheading the current effort to return to the moon known as the Artemis Program.

It was a bit surreal to be talking about the future moon efforts with a former NASA Administrator while at an event celebrating the kickoff of lunar ambitions from 60 years earlier.

As an aside, my conversation with Administrator Bridenstine was a much less awkward experience than the time a former Space Shuttle Program Manager started chatting with me while we were both standing at adjoining urinals for a Space Shuttle anniversary event.

Just like when the speech was first delivered, it was hot inside Rice Stadium as former astronaut, turned senator, turned current NASA Administrator, Bill Nelson pointed out in his remarks. Although the triple digit on field feels like temperature definitely dampened some armpits, it could not dampen  the magnitude of the event.

Along with various elected officials and VIPs, thousands of middle and high school students were on hand for the festivities in a measured attempt to inspire the next generation of students to take giant leaps for human kind.
Photo R. Anderson

Along with various elected officials and VIPs, thousands of middle and high school students were on hand for the festivities in a measured attempt to inspire the next generation of students to take giant leaps for human kind.

In a symbolic passing of the torch, the current students were joined by many Rice Alumni who were in the stadium 60-years earlier for the original speech.

As was the case in JFK’s time, America is once again looking towards a return to the moon. If all goes well, the next human steps on the moon will be made by the end of the current decade.

In support of the current return to the moon effort, as I write this, the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, complete with an Orion capsule, is currently sitting on a launchpad at the space center that bears President Kennedy’s name. The SLS is awaiting a go for launch once issues with leaking hydrogen valves are safely resolved.

In support of the current return to the moon effort, as I write this, the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, complete with an Orion capsule, is currently sitting on a launchpad at the space center that bears President Kennedy’s name.
Photo R. Anderson

Once SLS and the Artemis Program launch their uncrewed test mission, they will go to the moon and back to test various systems on the vehicle. About a year after Artemis 1, a second mission conveniently called Artemis 2 will take humans around the moon.

If all goes to plan on the first two missions, by 2025 Americans may once again put boots on the ground of the lunar surface during the Artemis 3 mission.

As someone who worked on the Orion Program during its early days, and has longed hoped to be alive when humans were on the moon, I am certainly rooting for Artemis to succeed in returning humans to the moon.

Of course, as the pesky and recurrent hydrogen leaks have shown, so much has to go right for a successful mission to the moon to occur. As John F. Kennedy so eloquently stated 60 years ago, “we do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

In addition to being at the 60th Anniversary event at Rice this week, in 2019 I was fortunate to be at the Kennedy Space Center to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the famous first steps on the moon by Neil Armstrong on Apollo 11.

As someone fascinated by aerospace history, I have always been amazed by the small steps and giant leaps of the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and Space Shuttle Programs. I am equally enthralled by the current efforts of companies like SpaceX to build and operate commercial vehicles.

Unfortunately, as an agency reliant of yearly funding and congressional whims, the best laid plans of NASA men and women can often fall victim to budget cuts and shifting presidential priorities.

There is not a single group that is at fault for the fact that December 19, 2022 will mark the 50th anniversary of the last human steps on the moon. It can be said that SLS is a victim of a funding model that has not really changed much in over 60 years.

President Richard Nixon cancelled the Apollo Program to make way for the Space Shuttle Program.

Following the loss of Space Shuttle Columbia, President George W. Bush announced the end of Space Shuttle Program, and the rising of the Constellation Program.

President Barack Obama ended Constellation, but saved Orion, while looking towards commercial companies to handle low earth orbit missions.

One can argue the politics and the excuses for why it has been over 50 years since humans last left footprints in the dusty lunar soil until the cow jumps over the moon.

The reasons don’t matter. What does matter is doing everything possible to ensure that it is not another 50 years before humans return to the moon.

Many people reading this may not be alive when the 100th anniversary of JFK’s speech at Rice rolls around. For that matter, depending on how people address sea level rise between now and then, Rice University itself may be under water.

Many people reading this may not be alive when the 100th anniversary of JFK’s speech at Rice rolls around.

For that matter, depending on how people address rising sea levels between now and then, Rice University itself may be under water along with Kennedy Space Center.

While I enjoy celebrating anniversaries of past human spaceflight accomplishments, it is time for some new milestones to be created that can be celebrated in another 50 to 60 years.

Humans must continue to build on the vision first outlined by a young idealistic president on a sweltering hot summer day 60-years ago inside a football stadium in Houston, TX.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to answer the age-old question of why did Rice play Texas?

Copyright 2022 R. Anderson

A Day that Changed Both Space and Time

Today marks the 50th anniversary of two things that changed the world.

On this date a half century ago events on two continents made the world seem both larger and smaller at the same time.

I am referring to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the premiere of the British television show Doctor Who.

One this day 50 years ago America lost a president and perhaps some of its innocence as well. Photo R. Anderson
One this day 50 years ago America lost a president and perhaps some of its innocence as well.
Photo R. Anderson

Now, to be fair I was not alive 50 years ago on the day that changed everything; having arrived on the scene a little bit after that.

But, as a student of history and an avid Whovian I feel fairly confident in assessing the impact that both events had on the world in general.

And one does not need to have been alive on that fateful November day to feel the impacts of those two events.

So let us start with President Kennedy whose assassination on a Dallas street around four hours from where I am writing this changed the face of politics and gave breath to a whole industry of conspiracy theories as to what happened.

While I suppose one can argue for both the lone gunmen theory of a single shooter versus multiple shooters that does not really change the fact that a President of the United States was slain and with it a part of the innocence of the nation was slain with it.

President Kennedy was not the first president to be assassinated. In fact William McKinley, the 25th U.S. President, was killed in 1901. So it stands to reason that there were people alive in 1963 who were alive the last time a president was killed.

But for many younger Americans they had never witnessed the death of a president, let alone one as popular as JFK.

Individuals tried to assassinate both Presidents Ford and Reagan and I would like to believe that lessons learned from the Kennedy assassination helped protect both of those men from being killed.

The Warren Report sought to explain the Assassination of Presidnet John F. Keneedy although there are still many theories about what really happened. Photo R. Anderson
The Warren Report sought to explain the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy although there are still many theories about what really happened.
Photo R. Anderson

While I was not alive to have the “where were you when you heard that JFK was dead? moment I do know where I was when Ronald Reagan was shot so I can relate to having a memory forever linked in time.

The shock of John F. Kennedy’s assassination as well as the events to follow helped shape the world I was born into one completely different from the world my parents were born into.

In the same way people born after the 2001 terrorist attacks entered a world that is a far different place than the way the world was when I first experienced it.

Every generation there are events that shape the world view for the generations to follow.

Shaping the world view throughout the course of time of course brings us to the second event that we are remembering today.

Doctor Who started as a humble television program and turned into a phenomenon that changed the face of science fiction television. One could argue that without Doctor Who there would not be Star Trek, or Star Wars.

While America was dealing with the killing of its president across the pond Doctor Who was taking his first flight in the TARDIS. A half century, and a few coats of paint later the Doctor and the TARDIS are still having adventures and inspiring the minds of generations. Photo R. Anderson
While America was dealing with the killing of its president across the pond Doctor Who was taking his first flight in the TARDIS. A half century, and a few coats of paint later the Doctor and the TARDIS are still having adventures and inspiring the minds of generations.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course one could also argue that the worlds of Star Trek and Star Wars would have existed even without the birth of Doctor Who which shows that much like people failing to agree on the details of the Kennedy assassination there can be multiple schools of thought on the impact of the good Doctor.

But what one cannot ignore is that Doctor Who helped shape countless programs that came after it.

Time travel is a central element of Doctor Who that helps people yearn for a way to go back and fix things that went wrong or prevent future missteps.

With his trusty “it’s bigger on the inside” TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space) and companions Doctor Who goes from one end of time and space to the other stopping various events in human and alien history from occurring.

Whenever time travel is placed in the equation there are always those who come up with the what if we could have gone back and stopped so and so scenarios.

What if we could have stopped Hitler?

What if we could have stopped the Titanic from sinking?

The list goes on and one regarding events in history that many would change if they could.

Of course not all events regarding time travel are global in nature. There are the more personal goals as well such as going back in time and telling your earlier self to take a different job or not get a certain haircut, etc.

There are about as many theories about the ability to time travel as there are about who killed President Kennedy.

A few years back Steven King wrote a book about someone going back in time to prevent the Kennedy assassination. There was even an episode of the television show Quantum Leap that dealt with the topic. And yes even Doctor Who addressed the assassination.

With mankind fascinated by the ability to right what once went wrong Doctor Who comes with a built in following. Of course the strong writing and acting help keep the Whovians coming back year after year going on 50 years.

Through the tragedy of the death of an American President and the hope of a British television show that sought to show that all of time and space could be explored people were led to think, explore and find ways to make the world a better place.

Who’s to say what will happen in the next 50 years, or even if the world will still be around. But if there is still a world in 50 years I would make a pretty strong wager that it will be a world full of time travel even if that time travel is only done through the magic of the Doctor and his companion.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get ready for a Doctor Who Marathon.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson