Space Science Building, 1965

Over the years, Rice’s relationship with NASA has proven to be deeply transformative in a number of ways. It would be hard to overstate the excitement and sense of adventure that accompanied the founding of the Department of Space Science in the wake of the federal government’s decision to locate the Manned Space Center in Clear Lake. (This is quite a story all by itself.) The new department would begin with four faculty members and nine graduate students in the spring of 1963, focused on research and high-level instruction in a variety of cutting-edge fields. By the fall of 1967, the department had grown to seventeen faculty and fifty grad students, many of them associated with the Manned Space Center or aerospace contractors.

One aspect of the university’s transformation was the 1965 construction of a new building, funded by a $1.6 million dollar NASA grant, to house these teaching and research activities. A few days ago I ran across a meticulous record of the construction of this building, complete with 27 labeled boxes of slides, cross-referenced in a notebook. I believe that this beautiful record was made by Alex Dessler, the first chairman of the Space Science Department. Here’s the first page of the notebook:

Most of the photos are pretty straightforward construction scenes (as above), which I’ll take a closer look at when I can. But a few have people in them too–the people who helped build the department. There’s something a bit haunting about them. Here’s Dessler, standing in the construction site, in April 1965:

And this is the department’s secretary, Janet Spahr, on the same day:

The only other person (apart from the construction crews) that I could find in these photos is Curt Michel–but he’s inside somewhere. Can anyone tell me where this is?


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9 Responses to Space Science Building, 1965

  1. Pat Campbell says:

    The matriculation address to my Freshman class in 1965 was titled “Space – the Hole We Are In” and referred extensively to the neighbor to Hamman Hall that would become the Space Science Building.

  2. Melissa Kean says:

    I bet I can find the text of that speech. I’m traveling and won’t be back until next week, but I’ll take a quick look when I get home.

  3. Andrew Dessler says:

    I can confirm that that’s my father’s (Alex Dessler’s) handwriting. If you want to get any more info about the history of the Space Science Building (or anything else associated with the Department or the effort), I can put you in touch with my father … he’s living near me in College Station and I’m sure he would be happy to fill in any blanks.

    Andy Dessler
    Rice ’86

  4. Brian Lyssy says:

    You mentioned above that most of the photos are pretty straightforward construction scenes. I work in the construction industry and was showing these photos to some of my co-workers today. We were commenting about how in 40+ years, many of the techniques and practices are still being used today, the lack of fall protection being the obvious exception. I was wondering, when you have the time, if you could either post these other photos or send them to me via e-mail. I would love to show them to my project team.

    Brian Lyssy
    Rice ’98

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