You can’t judge a book by its cover.
And if in 1961 you happened to be standing in the wind-battered cow pasture on the shores of Clear Lake, just southeast of downtown Houston, you could be forgiven for not believing that in a few short years, this would be the future home of an elite cadre of scientists and airmen, destined to leave this planet and set foot on another world.
This year marks the 50th anniversary since NASA’s Johnson Space Center – originally named the Manned Spacecraft Center – opened its doors. As recently told to the Houston Chronicle, the effort to land the nation’s premiere space center in Houston was not your typical application process.
But thanks to the foresight of a group of Houston businessmen and the deft political maneuvering of one powerful Texas politician, Space City was born.
Interestingly, it wasn’t the politician whose name the Center now bears. Rather, it was longtime Houston Congressman Albert Thomas. As NASA’s site selection committee contemplated Baton Rouge, Jacksonville, Tampa, and even San Francisco, Thomas used his influence on the House Appropriations Committee to bring NASA to Houston.
In the intervening years, Houston has become synonymous with humankind’s exploration of space. As the home of Mission Control and the training facility for the Astronaut Corps, humanity’s progress into the vast unknown has, quite literally, been led by Texans.
From the days of Project Gemini, when San Antonio native Lt. Col. Ed White became the first American to perform a spacewalk, to the Apollo era, which brought mankind to a new world, and on through the Space Shuttle program and it’s enduring legacy, the International Space Station, Texans have pioneered the celestial frontier.
As anyone living in Clear Lake and the surrounding area knows, these remarkable men and women are not only explorers, scientists, and engineers at the tops of their fields: they are friends and neighbors, fellow congregants at churches, and parents cheering on the local little league team.
Over the last five decades, Houstonians have shared in the triumphs and tragedies that have befallen the NASA community. The city rejoices with each safe return to Earth of its fellow Texans, and it grieves deeply when they are taken away by the ever-present dangers of spaceflight.
Americans of all ages look to NASA for inspiration. We see in our astronauts the manifestation of the highest ideals of the American spirit: forging ahead into a new and dangerous frontier in the courageous pursuit of knowledge. The achievements of the last 50 years have been breathtaking.
Now, as we move beyond the Space Shuttle program and into a new era of exploration, the world will once again look to Texas for its bold leadership into space.