Hutchison honored with Pioneer Award
The National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI), based at Rice University’s BioScience Research Collaborative (BRC), awarded its fourth annual Pioneer Award to Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison at the institute’s dedication of its new home March 19.
The award is given to those who efforts help blaze new trails on behalf of the institute, its partnership with NASA and the space biomedical community.
The NASA-funded NSBRI is a consortium that studies health risks related to long-duration spaceflight and develops medical technologies needed for extended missions. The institute coordinates academic, government and industry researchers in projects that will benefit not only space travelers but also people on Earth.
The NSBRI moved to the BRC from its former headquarters at nearby Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) last June, but only this week dedicated its facility on the ninth floor “to put you just a little bit closer to the ultimate goal,” Rice President David Leebron said. BCM is the lead institution at NSBRI, which brings together researchers from more than 60 American institutions, including Rice, in a range of science, education and technology projects. The BCM Center for Space Medicine, also on the ninth floor, celebrated its grand opening as well March 19.
In a packed gallery overlooking the campus and, significantly, Rice Stadium, Leebron told attendees that when President John F. Kennedy delivered his famous “We will go to the moon” speech at the stadium nearly 50 years ago, “one of the things he most emphasized was the benefit of the knowledge that was going to be produced. It wasn’t simply about winning the race to the moon against the Russians at the time. … It was really about the benefits that would flow to all mankind.
“Nothing could really represent better that legacy than the mission of NSBRI,” Leebron said. “We are so pleased to have that here at Rice. We hope this deeper collaboration will be the vanguard of a renaissance for Johnson Space Center, for the city of Houston and for the collaborations that make the development of that knowledge possible.”
Hutchison told the audience a few minutes later, “I would be remiss if, standing here looking out at Rice Stadium, I didn’t remember what President Kennedy said. It was one of the greatest speeches I can remember any politicians ever making. … He said, ‘The city of Houston, the state of Texas, this country of the United States was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them. This country was conquered by those who moved forward – and so will space.’
“He laid out the vision, and then he made sure we implemented it with all the vigor and technology and excellence that America could bring to bear,” Hutchison said.
Hutchison noted she gave up her chairmanship of the Military Construction Subcommittee to spend her final months in Congress as a member of the Commerce and Science Subcommittee, which oversees NASA funding. “I was so concerned that we were going away from the emphasis on the engineering and expertise we have at NASA and this great research consortium, which is going to give us so much,” said the senior Texas senator, who is not running for re-election. “I wanted to make sure I had a voice in the funding of NASA.”
Other speakers were the institute’s director, Jeffrey Sutton, the Friedkin Chair for Research in Sensory System Integration and Space Medicine and a professor and director of BCM’s Center for Space Medicine; Michael Coats, former astronaut and director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center; Bobby Alford, NSBRI chairman and former BCM chancellor; and Paul Klotman, president and CEO of BCM.
As part of the ceremony, NSBRI researchers demonstrated projects being developed for long journeys into space that could have significant impact at home. Scientists discussed an ultrasound technique that would not only identify kidney stones but help push them from a patient’s kidney. Another would streamline user training and help experts on the ground guide non-physician astronauts to perform ultrasound exams.
Researchers also showed projects to address the dangers of radiation beyond low-Earth orbit, physiological monitoring systems and the effects of body position on astronauts’ sense of smell, thought to be an indicator of increased pressure in the brain similar to that seen in various neurological conditions on Earth. (Rice students will be among those offered the chance to take part in an upcoming trial based at BCM, said Eric Bershad, assistant professor of neurology and leader of the project.)
Cindy Farach-Carson vice provost for translational bioscience at Rice and first scientific director of the BRC, said the NSBRI represents “all of the things we aspire to be here at the BRC. They’re great partners.”
Located at the corner of University Boulevard and Main Street, the 477,000-square-foot, 10-story BRC is equipped for cutting-edge laboratory, theoretical and computational investigations and features eight floors of research labs, classrooms and auditoriums.