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?